Consuelo Brennan

Consuelo Brennan

PENINSULA PROFILE: The three graces of paradise

PORT TOWNSEND — So three women walk into a playhouse. An ex-tax preparer. A psychotherapist from the Bronx. A Filipina actress from California.

These women fell madly in love with one another’s talents and with the place where they come out to play: the Paradise Theatre School of Chimacum.

And now that the Paradise has been shut down, Sheila Khalov, Marcia Perlstein and Consuelo Brennan are out to help it reopen — and entertain in the process.

The trio, in the tradition of feminine triumvirates across the arts — think the Three Graces from Greek mythology or the Supremes from Motown — is collaborating on an evening of piano music and comedy titled “Humor in Paradise,” to tell stories personal, political and possibly hysterical.

It will happen on one night only, June 15, and it will travel all over the topic map. There are pieces of Perlstein’s mind — the mind of a self-described “rogue therapist” — as well as Brennan’s comic bit on hair removal and Khalov’s interview with the oldest Jewish woman in the world.

The show, with its 13 short pieces, will take the stage at the Pope Marine Building in downtown Port Townsend because its beneficiary, the Paradise Theatre School, lost its public occupancy permit about a year ago. The nonprofit, which had held theater classes and staged plays for nine years, was in need of safety and commercial upgrades, said co-artistic director Pattie Miles Van Beuzekom. These upgrades are expected to cost $50,000.

“Humor in Paradise,” meanwhile, is one among many fundraisers in the theater’s capital campaign.

Van Beuzekom is delighted at how Perlstein, Khalov and Brennan have, as she said, “taken the ball and run with it.” The women — Khalov and Perlstein as co-producers and Brennan as a writer and performer — have complete autonomy as they develop the show, Van Beuzekom emphasized.

“That reflects how we like to work with artists anyway,” she said.

All three of the “Humor in Paradise” women want the Paradise to live on because, as Perlstein puts it, this is the rare place where it’s safe to take risks. The Paradise Theatre School doesn’t do things like “Oklahoma!” or Agatha Christie.

Instead it celebrates Shakespeare and Chekhov, and fosters the production of new plays, works by local writers — and controversial fare such as “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” about the late Evergreen State College student who died while fighting the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza.

Then there was 2007’s “A Very Lesbian Nutcracker,” in which Brennan was a cast member and Perlstein an audience member. They got to know each other during a post-performance discussion at the Paradise.

Perlstein, who grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., and lived in Berkeley, Calif., before moving to Discovery Bay, said Brennan and the rest of the Paradise cast and crew produced a work of great quality — on a level with the New York and San Francisco theaters she once frequented.

Brennan, for her part, comes from the Professional Actors’ Conservatory in Orange County, Calif., and acted on stages in Los Angeles and Seattle before moving to Port Townsend, where her husband has family.

She’s portrayed a galaxy of characters. Among her Shakespeare credits are Emilia in “Othello” and the Starveling in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream;” she’s played Rebecca in “Our Town” and Cristina in “Frida Kahlo” at Los Angeles’ Grupo de Teatro Sinergia Theatre.

Among her Olympic Peninsula roles are Callie in “Stop Kiss” at the Paradise Theatre and, just this spring, Tony in “The Art of Dining” at the Key City Playhouse. As a restaurant patron with issues around eating, Brennan’s character reflected how one’s relationship with food can be a lot like relationships with people.

Brennan herself has savored her time on stage and relished the quality of productions at Key City and the Paradise.

But ironically, she isn’t at ease in those post-

show discussions.

“At the Paradise, if you accept a role, it’s assumed that you’ll participate in them. I’ve gotten better at it. But I’m prone to saying ridiculous things that have nothing to do with the question.

“My face is getting hot now” just thinking about it, Brennan admitted.

She keeps on, though. The Paradise Theatre School has been a place for personal growth as well as for public performance. Van Beuzekom has spoken to her about doing a one-woman show, and Brennan is open to that idea.

“Pattie stretches you in a kind and gentle way,” added Perlstein. “But she doesn’t take ‘no.’”

Khalov, for her part, took playwriting classes at the Paradise.

“I was totally outclassed,” she said. “But that’s good because I’m reaching higher.”

When it comes time to produce a play, the joy is in the collaboration with others who share your enthusiasm, who are “giving their all,” said Brennan.

The “Humor in Paradise” women bring to this work a kind of casserole of life experiences. Perlstein, 66, has degrees from the State University of New York at Binghamton, San Francisco State University and the University of California at Berkeley; she was a high school principal for many years before establishing her private psychotherapy practice.

Perlstein and her partner of 26 years, Nyla Dartt, went to Connecticut to get married this past September. If and when Washington state legalizes same-sex marriage, Perlstein added, they would reaffirm their vows, especially if it’s part of some sort of group wedding celebration.

Khalov, 70, was a society-magazine editor in Washington, D.C., a court reporter and finally a tax preparer in Oakland, Calif. She has a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in humanistic psychology.

Upon moving to Port Townsend, Khalov jokes, she developed CVS — chronic volunteer syndrome — while producing shows at the all-volunteer KPTZ-FM. She’s producer of Sheila Bender’s “Discussions on Writing and the Writer’s Life” program on the community radio station. And recently, she assembled 50 students from Blue Heron Middle School for an on-air showcase of young writers’ work.

Khalov also added to her list of volunteer posts just last month when she became a guardian ad litem, an advocate who represents abused or neglected children in court cases.

Brennan, 46, is mother to an 11-year-old son, Tiburcio, while also volunteering at the Paradise Theatre School and working at Getables, the gourmet food and gift boutique that opened in March at 810 Water St. in Port Townsend.

The women share high hopes for the Paradise Theatre School’s rebirth. It’s a community resource, they believe, that feeds people. The community has responded in kind, time and again, not only by coming to see the plays at the Paradise, but also by cooking meals for cast and crew during rehearsals and providing lodging for visiting performers.

The theater experience here is a rich one, Brennan added, for both actor and patron.

“One of the things I loved about the Paradise was the way they approach the cutting-edge pieces,” she said. “They allowed me to create a full-fledged human with flaws, passions, likes and dislikes.”

For Brennan and her fellow cast members, the development process is its own reward.

In “Humor in Paradise,” Brennan’s piece, “Wax On, Wax Off,” is about depilation. As in hair removal, a topic with plentiful comedic possibility.

And then there’s Khalov’s contribution: an interview with Mary Frances O’Reilly, “the oldest living Jewish woman,” whose parents were tired of the traditional Jewish names like Miriam and Esther. In the interview, we hear, among other things, about how Mary Frances’ mother had a romance with Moses — until he took off up Mount Sinai.

“She felt abandoned,” interjected Perlstein.

“Who’s writing this?” retorted Khalov.

Perlstein does have her own piece in the show. “Down Home Therapy: Taking the Bronx on the Road,” is her revelation of her inner process while practicing psychotherapy.

Perlstein’s hope for any theatrical work, beyond the entertainment part, is to have people engage in conversations, both inwardly and out loud, after the curtain falls.

“I want to give them a key into an inner dialogue,” she said, in addition to the post-performance discussions.

With “Humor in Paradise” as with other productions, Perlstein, Khalov and Brennan also hope to reflect the two-way street between playhouse and community.

“I want people to feel the power of many,” Perlstein said.

In this show and at the Paradise Theatre School, “the whole is truly greater than its parts.”

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