For seven years, Mike and Gerry Feinstein spearheaded Vashon’s popular Arts & Humanities lecture series, bringing dozens of writers, filmmakers and arts leaders to the island — a volunteer gig that has now led to their own first act of theatrical creation.
The married couple’s debut show — “Kissing the Joy as it Flies: The Wit and Wisdom of Brian Doyle” — will have its premiere at Vashon Center for the Arts this weekend and be accompanied by a related art exhibit and panel discussion.
“Kissing the Joy,” directed by Charlotte Tiencken and featuring a cast of well-known island actors as well as island singer-songwriter Kat Eggleston, is a deft and fast-paced staged adaptation that weaves together passages from essays, short stories, novels and letters of Doyle, an acclaimed Oregon writer.
“Doyle’s writing lends itself perfectly to the spoken word,” said Gerry. “His insights and humor pierce straight to the heart.”
The Feinsteins brought Doyle to Vashon in 2015 as a part of Vashon Center for the Arts’ (then called Vashon Allied Arts) lecture series.
His memorable Vashon talk, they said, was an extemporaneous tour-de-force that concluded with him leading the sold-out crowd in a rousing sing-along of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
“He had the audience in the palm of his hand,” Gerry said.
After the lecture, the Feinsteins delved deeper into Doyle’s oeuvre. They said they discovered beautifully written passages celebrating not only parenthood and faith, but also, essays that explored the lives of anchovies and the relative sizes of the hearts of hummingbirds and blue whales. In his writing, Doyle also often praised more prosaic, small pleasures of life, including hot showers, good shoes and summer — material the Feinsteins felt would be deeply relatable to island audiences.
Frequently, he also wrote about the joy he found in his life’s work.
“Stories — story-catching and storytelling are the secret to everything,” Doyle wrote. “Why do I write? Because I see little stories everywhere and I like to catch them and show them to other people much as a child catches a moth and exhibits it with glee to friends and passersby.”
Doyle died of brain cancer, at the age of 60 in 2017, leaving behind more than two dozen books of essays, poems, stories and nonfiction. Seven times, his books were finalists for the Oregon Book Award, and his essays were published in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Orion, The New York Times and The Times of London, among other periodicals. He won three Pushcart Prizes, the John Burroughs Award for Nature Essays, Foreword Reviews’ Novel of the Year award and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
In an obituary in the National Catholic Reporter, Doyle was also called “the best Catholic writer of his generation,” explaining that his writing expressed an interest not so much in the Church’s hierarchies and rules, but rather, the vast mysteries and miracles contained in its theology.
The Feinsteins said they first had the idea to adapt Doyle’s works for the stage soon after his Vashon appearance, but plans were put on hold for a year after his untimely death.
In 2018, with the blessing of Doyle’s widow, the artist Mary Doyle, they proceeded with the production, eventually writing eight drafts of the show. They also arranged for it to be augmented by a panel discussion about Doyle and an exhibit of the paintings of his wife. The exhibit, called “After,” is composed of works that Mary created in the wake of her husband’s death.
The Feinsteins — art lovers who are both retired after long careers managing communications for universities, businesses and associations — said they were also motivated to create the show by the ticking of their own internal clocks. Mike is 78 years old, and Gerry is 76 — a time in life they agreed was a remarkable moment to dive into doing something completely new.
“We’re at an age where we are watching some of our friends have health problems,” Mike said. “We figured we’d better get this in before we’re 80.”
Their first step, as fledgling theater artists, was to enlist the collaboration of a seasoned theater professional, islander Charlotte Tiencken, who read their adaptation of Doyle’s works and immediately agreed to direct the show.
“I was floored by it,” Tiencken said. “It brought me to tears and made me laugh out loud.”
Tiencken then enlisted some of her favorite island actors — Jeanne Dougherty, David Mielke, Paul Shapiro and Cate O’Kane — to be in the show, and also brought in island singer-songwriter Kat Eggleston to create new music for the show.
The resulting production, the Feinsteins hope, will inspire audiences as much as Doyle’s work has inspired them.
“We all need this,” said Gerry, pointing out how Doyle’s writing has served for them as an anecdote to the current headlines and mood of the country. “In these times, we need an injection of truth, beauty and joy.”
“Kissing the Joy as it Flies: The Wit and Wisdom of Brian Doyle,” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 9, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 10, at Vashon Center for the Arts. An Arts & Humanities lecture, “Story Catcher,” about Doyle and his work, will take place at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 10. Moderated by Mike Feinstein, the panel discussion will include Portland author Robin Cody, William Baars, the former library director for the city of Lake Oswego, and Mary Miller Doyle. Mary’s paintings are also currently on view at VCA.
For tickets and more information on all the events, visit vashoncenterforthearts.org.