Cast members will be dancing in the twilight as they share stories about memory loss and the challenges many have faced while caretaking come Thursday at the Ancient Lakes Theatre Festival.
The premiere of the stage musical “How Can I Love You” takes viewers on a journey with families and their loved ones who have dementia. It’s about showing people they are seen and loved.
It will be the first-ever theatrical show at Cave B Estate Winery’s Stage B Amphitheater. Show dates are July 15-18 and 22-25.
The Cave B property is next to the famed Gorge Amphitheatre that Dr. Vince Bryan and wife Carol, owners of the winery, started in the mid-1980s before selling it to a concert promoter.
The one-act musical is written by Vince Bryan, a retired neurosurgeon. Music is composed by Rand Bellar.
Creators of “How Can I Love You” combined their passions of music and helping people in order to share a portrait of three families as they experience a journey into dementia with their loved-ones.
Musical director Eric Ankrim said the play is a contemporary pop musical celebrating life, love, joy and family. The story is told through the lens of rediscovering life in the shadow of caring for someone with memory loss.
So many people have had someone close to them go through this process, he said.
The amphitheater at Cave B area is a spectacular live theater performance space, according to Ankrim.
“I’ve never seen a more visually stunning venue to consume a story,” he said. Everywhere is surrounded by natural beauty.
The plan to use Cave B as a venue was prompted by statewide COVID-19 restrictions but quickly became the top choice after set and lighting designers took in the surrounding natural environment.
The show has a cast of 16 performers and is filled with current pop songs, he said. Many of the performers are based in Seattle, which is just getting its theater scene off the ground again after a year-long pause due to COVID-19.
Curtains open at 9 p.m., later than normal. The shift, Ankrim said, is intentional and allows for an ideal viewing experience.
Those on stage will sing through the evening until stars sneak out from above. Rolling hills cascading toward the Columbia River below can be seen from the venue.
“You feel the light of the environment drain out of the sky as you watch this show come to life,” he said.
On-stage lights play with the stars in the sky during the second half of the show once the daylight is gone, he said.
This is a feel-good piece that is designed to empower those who might be struggling with the responsibility of being a caregiver, Ankrim said. The stories told are going to empower those people and help them realize there is love and joy to be had.
“Sometimes we lose perspective and this show’s been generated to provide that perspective,” he said.
For Jose Gonzales, who plays the role of caretaker Louie, the play is personal because he has been in the real-life role of caretaker before for his father, who had Parkinson’s disease.
Gonzales said he approaches the play with openness and love instead of fear. It has been a healing process.
The show is intense and heavy, but also shares bits of hope, he said. There is this kind of humor shared where it is so tragic that one has to find the laughter and moment of light.
This play reaches out to the caretakers, giving them a message of “the people who you love, who are going through this … they see you and love you,” he said.
Actress Varinique Davis said the play is mostly just about life. Stories told on stage share that in coping with hardships — “we’re all still allowed to have fun,” she said.
Davis plays the role of Pearl Angel, a character going through memory loss.
While acting, “I do have to go to a place of peace while also understanding that there are certain cues that I can’t pick up,” which is heartbreaking, she said.
Ankrim said he believes the play is the beginning of an annual summer theater festival. This could draw major crowds for years to come, he said.
Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased at ancient lakestheatrefest.com.