Horn of plenty
When Triangle Productions' Don Horn followed his muse, he left the trucks behind
If you run into Don Horn in the lobby after a play, he might ask you with a grin: 'How was it for you?'
That sums up his lighthearted approach to the risquŽ performances that have made Triangle Productions the busiest theater group in Portland. Last year his 'kids' put on 15 shows.
Horn thrives on the work overload that drives him to Theater Theatre, 3430 S.E. Belmont St., at 5 a.m. daily. He's likely to be there until 11 p.m. with an hour's nap at lunchtime on his tanning bed in the basement.
It's a far cry from the 'serious' career in the trucking industry he gave up only two years ago. He's on a different kind of roll.
Triangle's production of 'Greater Tuna' is in its ninth week and going strong. The big 1980s hit 'Angry Housewives' will once more invite Portlanders to 'eat their effing cornflakes' in November. 'Shirley Valentine' was a tour de force for Helena de Crespo in 2001, and the musical 'I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change' played to packed houses in 2000 and 2001. It opens again Friday, Sept. 13.
A crash course in mating rituals, 'I Love You' is fairly mainstream for Triangle, which embraces gay comedies and dramas, Benny Hill slapstick and occasional bleak violence. Nudity is de rigueur, but it's not gratuitous, Horn says.
'There has to be a point. We try hard to push the envelope but not so far to offend,' Horn says with equanimity.
For example, he says, complete nudity is absent from the current comedy 'Down South,' which stars statuesque starlet Daria O'Neill as a frustrated housewife whose girlfriend Jennifer Niederloh helps her find her G spot as the Cuban missile crisis looms. Imagine an R-rated 'Dick Van Dyke Show.'
Selma incident changes everything
It's hard to imagine Horn in the trucking industry, even though he worked in it for 25 years. At 47, he looks more like a Hawaiian beach bum, with shoulder-length gray hair, deep tan, flapping shirt, shorts and no shoes. And he has the demeanor of a beach bum; he's gently happy and attentive, which serves him particularly well when he's directing.
'Focus, focus, focus,' he says to actresses Niederloh and O'Neill, rehearsing a masturbation scene.
Amazingly, Horn once worked for the state of Oregon handling trucking damage claims and overcharges across the country. Imagine how his casual appearance went over in, say, Alabama?
'I was in Selma, and this man said: 'I'm sorry I can't let you in my office, I don't believe you are who you say you are.' I had to call the office in Portland, and I thought, 'What am I doing here? This isn't me.' '
But the fiscally responsible auditor is part of him. He loves the theater, but his business acumen is equally responsible for his success.
A Seaside awakening
Horn first smelled greasepaint at Seaside High School 30 years ago, where he remembers being overweight and unhappy.
'I didn't like anything about me, but a friend of mine was directing a one-act play called 'Antic Spring' and asked me if I'd like to be in it. When I got on stage, it was fun. I was a fat guy in a fat suit rolling around with ants in my pants to huge applause.'
Horn wouldn't tread the boards again for more than 10 years, marrying and having two children. Then he auditioned for a couple of plays at Portland Civic Theatre and Lakewood Theatre, came out of the closet and met Jeff Heine, his partner of 18 years.
'Jeff said, 'Why don't you stay home for a while?' So I wrote this play 'After the Rain,' ' he says with a laugh. 'Nobody wanted to produce it, New Rose Theatre was closing, Storefront Theatre was closing, so I produced it myself at the Firehouse. And opening night sold out.'
He was hooked. Then he got the rights to 'Vampire Lesbians of Sodom' and lucked into his business partner, Myra Donnelly, a playwright who loved the production.
Horn and Donnelley formed Triangle Productions, buying the Southeast Belmont building six years ago. While they were producing such plays as 'Jeffrey' and 'Dishin' With Divine' (which Horn wrote and starred Darcelle), Horn was still working for the state. But after the Selma experience, Horn told Donnelly he'd had enough of his day job.
Facing the reality of having to fill theaters nightly, Horn realized that audiences often came as a show neared its end. He concluded that short runs would bring people in sooner and could always be extended.
'He loves what he does'
Dale Johannes has acted in Portland for almost 20 years, including 79 performances of 'I Love You.' He says Horn's success stems from his ability to make his cast feel like family: 'He works nonstop, but he loves what he does, and you can tell.'
Daria O'Neill agrees.
'Don has all the best qualities of a stereotypical drama teacher. He genuinely cares about people,' she says. 'If Peter Pan had scoured Portland searching for a mother for his lost boys, he could have done no better than Don.'