By Bruce A. Smith
That’s a joke, folks!
But I just saw the World Premier of “db,” a highly speculative account of the DB Cooper hijacking, in the CoHo Theater in Portland. Penned by NYC playwright Tommy Smith, it’s a HOOT! And yes, we see Ron Forman attempt to kiss Barb Dayton, the transgender skyjacking suspect!
I loved the show immensely, even though it takes extreme liberties with the known truths of DB Cooper. But much of it is authentic and accurate, and the sum total is raucous fun and theatrical joy. I laughed a lot, and cried at the end when Cooper jumped.
Think: Saturday Night Live goes to Ariel.
The 75-minute play is divvied into five main sections, with each portion being a skit involving Norjak principals.
The first bit was an introduction to Tina Mucklow and Flo Schaffner, and what their lives were like as “stews,” as flight attendants were known throughout the airline industry at the time.
The next section was a 20-minute sketch of Jo and Duane Weber (a prime Cooper suspect) that followed the arc of their relationship from first date to his deathbed confession. Some of the bits made me HOWL with laughter, and Jo will be burning up the phone lines when she reads this to learn more of the details. The scenes of Jo talking to her girlfriend on the phone about Duane are equal to any of the comedic sketches that Lily Tomlin has ever delivered.
Next up was an ensemble piece that wove the Barb Dayton skyjack scenario into imaginative portrayals of her life as a man, a barroom brawler, and a woman who couldn’t escape a love triangle. By the way, Ron is an African-American and his wife Pat is a nerdy, alcoholic, suburban shrew. Barb steals planes, drinks too much hooch, and beats up people who get in her face. But, the scenes that have Ron and Pat speaking at Norjak conferences as the authors of The Legend of DB Cooper – their story about the Barb Dayton confession – are hilarious. Their struggle for control of the microphone as their audience empties out of the room is played so convincingly by the actors, and written with such authenticity by Smith that it carries all the other flights of fancy to sublime satisfaction.
Who else but Twisty Butt and Uncle LD could follow next. But Marla is portrayed as a 16-year old vixen having an unhealthy relationship with Uncle LD, the FBI’s “most promising suspect.” The booze and the Cooper Family brawling mingle with turkey hunts and lascivious winks and cuddles, and it all adds up to a rich tapestry of DB Cooper possibilities.
Lastly, Uncle LD takes his slimy redneck self on board Flight 305 and plies Tina with morphine to calm her nerves, and verbally digs into her Catholicism. Think Duck Dynasty meets Carl Jung. It is chilling.
That bit also sets up the most speculative portion of the play – a ten-minute piece that explores Tina’s inner emotional world. The stage is lit entirely in deep red, suggesting unconscious musings sullen with fear. As the regular stage lights come back on in bright white, Tina shows up at the abbey where she lived for twelve years following the skyjacking, and the audience noticeably flinches when a nun appears. Tina says she is yearning for a place to live that has no men, not even priests, and begs for entry. Skeptical, the nun questions Tina’s devotion to God, and Tina simply says: “I can do that.” She is admitted.
Throughout the play, all of the DB Cooper characters wear the clothes they don as their individual personas: Duane in crazy plaid slacks, LD in Carhartts, Barb in a pony tail, jeans, and ball cap.
But in the finale, DB Cooper appears in his full black suit. His presence is commanding. Wordlessly he takes center stage. Tina screams and bustles about, but Cooper ignores her. He pulls the rear handle from right to left, and opens the aftstairs door. Mist swirls in and the engines roar. He slowly descends, and then jumps.
The production of “db” will continue at the CoHo through next weekend, February 4th. Artistic Fellow Jessica Dart told me that the playwright is eager to see future productions of the play, perhaps in New York or Hollywood. In the meantime, I encouraged her to find a way to make DVD copies of the production available somehow to the denizens of Cooper World.
Gawd knows we could use a good laugh.
MARLA, FLO, PAT………………….Alex Ramirez
BARB, JO, ……………………………Dana Green
DUANE, RON, FBI AGENT……….Duffy Epstein
LD, C0-PILOT, PASSENGER…….Don Kenneth Mason
FBI sketches of DB Cooper
Playwright, Tommy Smith, below
Ron and Pat Forman, left, Bruce A. Smith r-c, our friend Elizabeth, right, Boeing Field and the Museum of Flight
Ron and Pat flying with Barb in “db”, pix by Owen Carey and used courtesy of CoHo Productions
Marla Cooper, aka “Twisty Butt,” with her friend Santa Claus, aka Dale Miller
LD Cooper and Dewie Cooper in “db,” pix by Owen Carey and used courtesy of CoHo Productions
Duane and Jo Weber, pix courtesy of Jo Weber.
Duane Weber and his wife Jo in “db;” pix by Owen Carey and used courtesy of CoHo Productions.
Duane Weber in “db;” pix by Owen Carey and used courtesy of CoHo Productions.
The Carmel of Maria Regina Monastery in Eugene, Oregon where Tina lived for 12 years
Tina Mucklow, circa 2012, photo courtesy of Galen Cook.
Tina and Barb in “db,” pix by Owen Carey and used courtesy of CoHo Productions