Hunting the Paddler
Local Legend Meets History and Theater
Bonner County native playwright Ben Olson may have hit comedic gold in his latest play, “The Hunt for the Pend Oreille Paddler,” which premiers at Sandpoint’s Panida Theater stage on August 16 and 17 (and again the next weekend, the 23rd and 24th).
The characters in this original play, directed by Andrew Sorg, range from an over-the-top, bravura piratical sea captain, searching Ahab-like for a shadowy sea creature, and whose father was an early victim of the same, (played by the Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce’s own Kate McAlister and with—you guessed it!—a salty, Irish accent) to a shady, small-town, woman mayor (Dorothy Prophet) eager to cash in on crypto-tourists, plus a cryptozoologist (monster hunter) (Russel Crowe look alike Tom No-I-Don’t-Stutter-in-Real-Life Sanderson) and a mysterious man-in-black assassin (Dan Simons) who harbors secrets of his own. Some of the other funniest roles include the Whoracle (the enchanting Sarah Caruso), an easy-virtue woman of the night servicing the Farragut sailors, who quips that Coeur d’Alene is Indian for “kind of pretty but mostly ugly.”
Other cast includes an out-of-town land raper (Chris Herron), the local newspaperman (also played by Chris Herron), the dim-witted deckhand Flip (played by Michael Richardson), the brother-and-sister Deadheaders (Jeremiah Campbell and Madeline Elliott), a deranged priest (Ken Wood) and Captain Ahab him (her)self (Gloria Brown). And, of course, the Paddler.
Ben’s obviously done his homework in the world of lost and unknown creatures, giving the audience a crash course in not only Paddler Lore but brief asides into the Coelacanth (a fish once thought extinct) and the eerie plethora of animals found in Vietnam’s so-called Lost World. His throw-away mention of the Lazarus Toxons had me scrambling for my crypto-dictionary, and for the record, its animals which, once thought dead, like Lazarus, live on. Ben, also a member of local rock band Harold’s IGA (named for the beloved, if extinct, Sandpoint grocery store) also provided three rollicking songs for the production.
Ben’s inspiration, other than Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries, leans toward what he calls mock-u-quests and notes that “to be a local here, in this locale, is to be aware of the marvelous all around us.”
Now, coincidentally, Lawrence Fury, in last month’s issue of TRJ, gave our readers a brief history of the Lore of the Paddler, noting how sightings of the “beast” increased at a time when the U.S. Navy began secretly testing mini-subs and stealth subs in the lake (while earnestly denying it publicly). North Idaho College’s Cryptozoology Club, led by Prof. James R. McLeod in the early 70s, did an exhaustive Paddler study (Mysterious Lake Pend Oreille and its Monster, c.1987) and found the Paddler legend was most likely misidentifications of a few remnant giant (6-7 ft) sturgeons. (You can find a copy of the report in the rare books collection of the Sandpoint Library).
You might recognize Ben Olson’s name from his stint as a writer with the beloved, but now-departed, Sandpoint Reader; he echoes the lament of most local writers when he says his attraction to playwriting came about out of a desire to actually make money from his writing endeavors. In fact, the description of Chris Herron’s newspaperman character might carry just a hint of personal perspective: he is, “a drunken gentlemen who has covered the local beat all of his adult life. He is searching for a story that will vindicate his life wasted by wallowing in small town journalism.” But maybe I’m just projecting.
The Hunt for the Pend Oreille Paddler is the third play written by this Sandpoint native and Sandpoint High School graduate; previous works include Death of a Small Town in the West, and the audience-acclaimed Sperm! The Musical.
All three of Olson’s plays have been directed by Andrew Sorg, beloved by thousands for his hilariously funny skits and songs for the Angels Over Sandpoint-produced Follies, and a 2012 candidate (albeit a losing candidate) for the Idaho Representative 1A seat currently held by Eric Anderson. Sorg, who seems completely at home in the role of director, nonetheless feels the pull of the stage and says it’s possible he might place himself into some kind of cameo role in the Paddler production.
The play will debut at the Panida Theater with performances on August 16 and 17, with additional shows on August 23 and 24. The doors will open at 7 pm and the show begins at 7:30 pm. Door prizes will be given away at intermission.
Tickets will be on sale at the following Sandpoint businesses: Eichardt’s, Eve’s Leaves, and Monarch Mountain Coffee. Advance ticket sales are $10 each, or $12 at the box office on show dates. You can catch a funny trailer for the play on YouTube; simply search “The Hunt for the Pend Oreille Paddler Trailer.”
I highly recommend this play; I caught a free rehearsal and plan on shelling out my own hard-earned cash to see it again! You can’t get much higher praise!
‘til next time, keep spreading the word: Soylent Green is People! All Homage to Xena!