Arts and Entertainment

Three generations help bring Drama Dock's 'Revenge of the Dinosaur Lady' to the stage

Elizabeth and Lillian Ripley, on the Drama Dock set, are working on the group’s new play. - Tom Hughes photo
Elizabeth and Lillian Ripley, on the Drama Dock set, are working on the group’s new play.
— image credit: Tom Hughes photo

When Drama Dock’s U.S. premiere of “The Revenge of the Dinosaur Lady” opens this weekend, it will be a family affair, with three generations of a theatrical clan on hand to take bows for bringing the play to the stage.

The comedy — a rollicking tale of a middle-aged romance novelist whose characters come to life during an especially trying time in her life — was written by Mary Humphrey Baldridge, an accomplished New York writer who also runs the Playwrights Lab at The Neighborhood Playhouse, a famed acting school in Manhattan.

But Islanders may be most impressed with yet another of Baldridge’s accomplishments: She is the mother of Elizabeth Ripley, a colorful diva who has charmed Vashon audiences in recent years with her vivid portrayals of principal roles in “The Magic Flute,” “La  Bohème” and other local productions.

Ripley’s theatrical exploits include a long and impressive list of credits in professional theater and opera, including nine seasons in Seattle Opera’s chorus. For the past two years, however, she has given over her talents to Vashon, devoting more time to working as a voice teacher on the Island and playing a more prominent role in Drama Dock.

She currently serves on the community theater group’s board of directors and took on directorial responsibilities for a number of productions, including “Honk,” “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Inspecting Carol.” Some members of the Vashon theater community say Ripley’s involvement has been a boost to the local troupe.

 “She is a very confident, high-energy and hard-working person who has made a significant contribution to Drama Dock,” said Jim Roy, the company’s current board president.

Shannon Flora, another Drama Dock stalwart, agreed.

“She’s multi-talented and can really rally the personnel to put on a show,” said Flora, who added that she was especially grateful for Ripley’s skill and patience in working with actors.

Ripley, a youthful-looking woman of 47 with a dramatic splash of blond in her tousled dark brown hair, was responsible for bringing her mother’s play to Vashon — something she accomplished by way of a small ruse.

“I proposed the play to Drama Dock, but I didn’t tell them who Mary Baldridge was,” Ripley explained. “But when the committee came back with the play as their number one choice, I ’fessed up.”

With “Revenge of the Dinosaur Lady” a lock in Drama Dock’s season, Ripley signed on to direct the show, enlisting her two talented daughters to help behind the scenes.

Lillian Ripley, 22, a prize-winning visual artist who recently graduated from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, designed the set and costumes for the show, and Madelaine Ripley, 19, made a brief return to Vashon from Boston, where she attends Berklee College of Music, to choreograph a sword fight that helps to bring the play to its exciting climax in the second act.

The last several weeks have been a blur of rehearsals for Elizabeth and Lillian, but the mother-daughter duo took time out on a recent afternoon to welcome a visitor to their home off of Wax Orchard Road and talk about the show and their lives on Vashon.

Dressed in her trademark flowing black clothes and boots, Elizabeth sang out a cheerful greeting from her front porch and immediately launched into a lengthy series of introductions to her various exotic pets — a menagerie that includes a flock of pigeons, a pair of chinchillas, a fat striped cat, two ferrets, four curious dogs and seven parrots, some of which, Elizabeth noted proudly, sing opera and recite Shakespeare — “if they want to.”

Elizabeth came to Vashon from New York City 19 years ago — a move she made with her partner at the time and their young daughters in tow.

The girls’ father decamped from the Island and the family’s life shortly thereafter, but Elizabeth stayed to build a life and a home on the Island — a process that, like so much in Elizabeth’s life, was colorful and unorthodox. The young mother, her tiny daughters and an assortment of cats, dogs and birds lived in an 16-by-32-foot Korean-issue Army tent on the Wax Orchard property for two years while her small home was constructed.

“I wanted to move to upstate New York to raise my children, but instead, I moved 3,000 miles west and created my own little mini-Woodstock right here,” she said.

Just inside the house, a pan of freshly baked banana muffins — a stage prop for that night’s rehearsal of “Revenge of the Dinosaur Lady,” it turned out — cooled on the kitchen counter, and beyond that, a maze of furniture led to a living room piled high with a hodge-podge of memorabilia that reflected the rich and creative life of the house’s occupants.

A stack of show posters leaned against a dining room cabinet, and framed oil paintings by Lillian lined every inch of wall space that wasn’t given over to large windows showing off the majestic trees surrounding the house.

Even the tea served that afternoon turned out to be dramatic — an earthy cup of pu-ehr and licorice blends, prepared with frothy steamed milk and spiced with salt, black pepper, candied ginger, cloves, allspice and a spoonful of raw honey.

“It’s more of a witches’ brew than a cup of tea,” Elizabeth said with a sly smile.

Settling on a well-worn leather sofa with two small dogs ensconced on her lap, Elizabeth talked about “Revenge of the Dinosaur Lady” while Lillian, who shares her mother’s taste in dark clothing and two-toned hairstyles, got out her laptop to reveal renderings of the bright red, multi-level set she had designed for the show.

The long conversation that ensued included further explanation of the family’s theatrical pedigree —  Elizabeth’s father, Harold G. Baldridge, is also a noted theater practitioner who works as the director of The Neighborhood Playhouse.

As Elizabeth described the plot of “The Revenge of the Dinosaur Lady” — the story not only of a romance novelist but also her free-spirited young daughter — she noted the similarities between the characters and her own family.

“The character of (the daughter) is based on me,” Elizabeth said. “It’s like watching my life with my mother.”

Baldridge, in a phone interview from New York, concurred, but with a caveat.

“Elizabeth likes to say that, and I don’t like to contradict her,” she said. “But whenever I write about women, all the women have some piece of me.”

Baldridge, who is traveling to Vashon for the opening night, says she can’t wait to see her daughter’s production of the play, a U.S. premiere. The only other production of the play took place in 2004 at the Goya Theatre in Ottawa, Canada.

“The whole experience, from my point of view, will be like a wonderful bowl of caramel corn and — what is that stuff called?” Baldridge asked, before immediately coming up with the confection she had in mind.

“Poppycock! That’s it. It will be like poppycock — a great treat for me,” she said.

“The Revenge of the Dinosaur Lady” will run April 16 through April 25 at Vashon High School. There are 7:30 p.m. performances on April 16, 17, 22, 23 and 24; 4 p.m. performances on April 18 and 25, and a 2 p.m. show on April 24. Tickets, $10 and $15, are on sale at Vashon Bookshop, Books by the Way and www.brownpapertickets.com.

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