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Front Porch: Annual trip gives mother, son chance to bond over love of stage

My husband Bruce and I have a different view of vacations. He’s not so interested in taking them. I am.

Sure, we’ll zip over to Seattle on a weekend or maybe visit the Oregon Coast for a few days, and once in a long while we’ll take 10 days to visit our oldest son wherever in the world he is residing at the time. (In between, I visit him on my own.)

The idea of a couple of weeks just doing frivolous things in some distant or even nearby place is not something that appeals to my husband, partially because he’s still working. He has seen a lot of places and done a lot of things already, and is content now right where he is.

We spend lots of time together doing things, but around here. Rather than turn this into a major issue, we’ve come to a good compromise: I go without him, which I have mentioned in this space before. Our system works for us.

Our joke is that I go and do, and he stays home to work for the money I’m spending.

I just came back from a delightful trip with our youngest son to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. We saw five plays, had terrific walks and talks, bought a few gifts and had some lovely meals at restaurants we found as we wandered through the city.

We both love theater. Sam makes his living at it in Seattle. He can tell you who appeared in just about every show in New York or London and is the perpetual champ in any game of theater trivia in any bar, backstage or venue in which theater people are present. He knew a few people working the festival in Ashland and met up with them after the evening shows.

I lived in New York City as a child and remember the first play I ever saw was on Broadway – “Peter Pan” with Mary Martin. I’ve been hooked, as it were, ever since, and even served as theater critic for this newspaper in my early years in journalism. My husband and I actually met on stage during a college production.

So Ashland was paradise for Sam and me. Such innovative work going on there. Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” was set in the 1930s and concluded with a Busby Berkeley song and dance number. A bold choice, certainly, but the director had a clear concept and staged it cleanly, and the cast delivered the goods grandly. Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Yeoman of the Guard” was presented as an interactive piece in a country-western setting in which the actors sang bluegrass, honky-tonk and Nashville songs while playing about 20 instruments. Hard to describe, but it really worked.

I won’t wax on about the other shows nor point to the flaws we both found in one of them. Everyone’s a critic, right?

I gave Bruce some highlights on the phone while in Oregon. Plus I did my own version of performance art in recounting much of the experience for him at dinner after he picked me up at the airport. Dinner was interrupted from time to time as I was compelled to jump up to re-enact some physical movement from a scene when verbal descriptions just wouldn’t suffice. Happily, no wait staff or trays of passing food were injured during the portrayals.

Another plus of the trip was easy conversation with Sam about everything and nothing. So often when we see him in Seattle, we’ve just got a few hours, as he’s off to a rehearsal or a class he’s teaching, or we’re off to an appointment or event. Good, deep communication tends not to happen under such circumstances, but does when you’ve got leisurely wandering-and-walking time together. I love that.

This was the third year Sam and I met in Ashland to attend the festival, and we hope to make it an annual event for as long as we can. The whole experience was stimulating and provoked so much discussion between us. It would have been more theater than Bruce would have enjoyed and was barely enough for Sam and me. So everyone was happy.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@ Previous columns are available at columnists.