The play tells a story of a grandmother facing Alzheimer's
by: Lisa K. Anderson Rose, Lexy Dillon, is surrounded by her family.

She's an 83-year-old matriarch, queen of the family and fiercely independent. She's also been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and her family must make the difficult decision of how to care for her.

Rose is the beloved main character of 'Assisted Living,' which makes its West Coast premiere at Sandy Actors Theatre on June 3. Though the subject matter is serious, director Jim Wilhite says the story is filled with humor.

'It's a laughter-to-tears experience -- a tender love story in many ways,' Wilhite said. 'Rose wouldn't let anything be dark.'

Amid the sadness of an ailing mind, Rose uses hilarious metaphors, fractures the English language and holds zany dialogues with her two children, daughter-in-law and grandson.

Two years ago, in its efforts to produce one new play a year, Sandy Actors Theatre held a contest with a $500 prize. Wilhite and the theater received more than 45 plays in the mail during the six-month contest period.

They came from Canada, New York and Iowa, but the selection was clear: Portlander Rich Rubin's 'Assisted Living.'

'It was like a no-brainer,' Wilhite said. 'I passed the script around, and everyone agreed it had substance.'

Rubin, 64, is a retired primary care physician who has lived in Portland the past three years. He says the play is based on the patients and families he has cared for throughout his career.

'A frequent scenario is that mom and dad are getting on in years and want to stay in their home and live independently,' Rubin said. 'Children grow concerned about their safety, and there is this tension.'

When he first started writing the play, Rubin said the tone was serious and even a bit somber. Then something interesting happened. Feisty and vibrant, Rose took over. The more he wrote, the funnier the story became. It was even uplifting.

'I imagine that it might provoke some discussion of the issues,' Rubin said. 'This question of aging ... how family deals with it.'

'Assisted Living' was recently selected as one of two winners in the new play contest at the Neil Simon Festival in Utah, dubbed in its review as 'hilarious, moving and Simonesque.' The play was first produced at Adobe Theater in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2009.

Rubin was delighted to receive a phone call saying he had won the Sandy Actors Theatre contest a year ago. He says he is impressed with the cast's enthusiasm and ability.

Wilhite also gave accolades to the cast, crew and stage manager Doug Holtry, who have worked on a new production from scratch.

'It's a delightful challenge to birth something new,' Wilhite said.

Among the nine cast members is Lexy Dillon, who portrays Rose. This is Dillon's second production in Sandy.

'What I love is her wit, her independence,' Dillon said. 'She's very engaging and funny. I'm amazed at how often something comes up in conversation that reminds me of this play. It's so well written and really does mirror life in many ways.'

'Assisted Living' runs through July 2, with performances 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays.

This is Wilhite's 18th production since he began directing in 1981. The production is supported in part by a grant from the Clackamas County Cultural Coalition and the Oregon Cultural Trust.

Things to know

What: 'Assisted Living'

Where: Sandy Actors Theatre, 17433 Meinig Ave.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, June 3-July 2

Cost: $15 general admission, $12 students and seniors, $10 children under 12

Reservations: 503-668-6834

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