ILWACO — Natasha Beals has truly caught the theater bug.
Fresh from her debut success as LeFou, the villain’s cheeky sidekick in “Beauty and the Beast,” the Ilwaco woman is back on stage again.
This time she appears as the lead character’s former mistress whose unexpected return adds a saucy element to the comic mayhem in “Black Comedy.”
The latest show being staged by Peninsula Players is directed by Andy Tauber. It opens Nov. 9 at the River City Playhouse in Ilwaco and runs two weekends.
Beals is a welding and photography student at Clatsop Community College who works at Fort George in Astoria. She grins broadly when describing her enjoyment of community theater. But it has been a change in her life.
She played basketball, volleyball and softball during many of her college years, which included studies at Washington State University, in Olympia and Western Oregon University. She has packed much into her 36 years, hitchhiking around the world and developing her own artwork from materials like pallets.
So when a former employer enthused about the joy of performing on a community stage, she and her wife, Michele Gutierrez, decided to try out for the summer show in Chinook.
Beals said when they arrived for the Peninsula Association of Performing Artists’ auditions this spring, she was somewhat nervous. Knowing that Gutierrez, who had done some drama in high school, was an accomplished dancer and singer, Beals recalled that she felt out of her depth — additionally so after hearing the excellent voice of PAPA’s talented Emma Zimmerman.
Beals almost turned to leave. “My wife said, ‘If you dragged me here, you are going to try out, too!’”
She need not have worried. Coaxed by musical theater stalwart Barbara Poulshock and director Brooke Flood, she managed to sing one song. Almost inevitably, it was “Take Me Out To the Ball Game.”
Both women were cast, Beals in the comic role of LeFou, complete with a painted-on mustache, and Gutierrez as a prominent dancer/singer in spirited ensemble scenes. “Brooke said, ‘Are you up for a challenge?’ and it ended up being a blast,” Beals recalled. “It was fun we got to do it together.”
While grateful to Flood, whose dramatic expertise she greatly admires, Beals credits Gutierrez with encouraging her, particularly to deliver her lines with gusto, even practicing outdoors. “Michele has been my biggest support.”
Beals adopted a technique to overcome nervousness when performing. “I would always look above the crowd, and that seemed to work,” she added.
Flood said Beals was a joy to work with. “No matter what, she was there, present, ready to work and in doing so ready to have a ton of fun,” her director said. “She improved leaps and bounds because she had the best attitude and has a real sense of optimistic realism.”
Gutierrez, too, worked hard to learn her role and lead others, Flood said. “Those two really are incredible women.”
The experience prompted Beals to continue.
“It was awesome, and afterward I wanted to do another one. We live in Ilwaco, so I came to the Players and tried out.”
She laughs when asked about her latest role.
“I’ve always been a tomboy, so to act ‘girly’ is an extreme challenge!” she said. “But this is acting, so you ‘become’ the character — and now it’s becoming fun.”
Beals is not the only acting newcomer appearing in “Black Comedy,” whose cast includes several Players’ regulars. Ilwaco stay-at-home dad Patrick Buckley lives across the street from the theater. He watched the marquee sign being changed and wandered across to ask about the new play.
At first considering that he might offer to help behind the scenes, the 30-year-old ended up being cast in the play and a second role in “The Son Also Rises,” a short curtain-raiser by Ocean Park writer Robert Brake that is being staged at the same time. “It’s been great,” Buckley said.
“Black Comedy,” by Peter Shaffer
“The Son Also Rises,” by Robert Brake.
River City Playhouse, 127 S.E. Lake St., Ilwaco, Wash.
7 p.m. Nov. 9-10, 16-17; 2 p.m. Nov. 11, 18.
Admission, $10, at the door or in advance from Stormin’ Norman’s in Long Beach, Old Towne Cafe in Ilwaco or Okie’s Thriftway store in Ocean Park.
‘It was awesome, and afterward I wanted to do another one.’
— Natasha Beals
hooked on community theater