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Play on Words

Lake Oswego's Shelly Lipkin draws on some famous writers for his latest play that was nominated for an Oregon Book Award
by: Vern Uyetake, Shelly Lipkin sits at his Lake Oswego home next to his dog Echo. His most recent play, Sylver Beaches was nominated for an Oregon Book Award for Drama. He is actively involved in Portland’s theater scene and at the Lakewood Center for the Arts

Not too long ago, Shelly Lipkin looked over an old writing exercise he had composed. In it, he responded to the prompt: Envision your perfect life.

Lipkin had written that he would be living in an area similar to Portland and would have the ability to look out the window while he wrote, watching his dogs play in the yard.

'And I pretty much have that,' Lipkin said as he strolled around the backyard of his Lake Oswego home, tailed by two large dogs, Echo and Bear.

In his nine years in Lake Oswego, Lipkin has established himself as an influential figure in the Portland theater scene. Most recently, he was nominated for his second Oregon Book Award for his original play, 'Sylver Beaches.'

The play, about Sylvia Beach's Parisian bookstore, which housed expatriate writers Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and others, received rave reviews after a handful of staged readings.

'It has been very well-received so far. I think Sylvia Beach is a fascinating character because her bookstore was the epicenter for great literary work in Paris,' Lipkin said.

Beach's claim to fame was taking Joyce's manuscript for 'Ulysses,' which had been rejected by multiple editors, and was instrumental in finally getting what is commonly considered to be the greatest novel of the 20th century published.

'Sylver Beaches' is Lipkin's follow-up to the wildly successful 'Vitriol and Violets' about the famous Algonquin Round Table group of writers, featuring Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, among others.

Lipkin won the Oregon Book Award for Drama for 'Vitriol and Violets,' which had very successful runs at Cygnet Theatre in Portland and the Lakewood Theatre in Lake Oswego. He co-wrote the play with Louanne Moldovan and Sherry Lamoreaux.

Over the years, Lipkin has been involved with the Artists Repertory Theatre, Profile Theatre and Cygnet Theatre and teaches classes and labs at the Northwest Children's Theatre and the Lakewood Center for the Arts.

But all of that is very far removed from where Lipkin started out.

After growing up in Chicago, Lipkin went to college in the Bay Area where he started acting. The second show he ever participated in was 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' where he was cast as Flute.

'The first time anyone laughed at something I did on stage, that was it. I was hooked,' Lipkin said.

During this time, Lipkin performed in stage productions with Robin Williams and also dabbled as a make-up artist.

Lipkin worked at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre for three years before eventually recognizing that, to make it as an actor, he would need to make the move to either Los Angeles or New York.

Lipkin chose L.A. because 'I figured I'd rather starve in a warm climate,' he joked.

He slowly began to find work on sitcoms and in TV movies, still finding time to write and act in theatre productions.

One of Lipkin's first screen roles was a small part on Laverne and Shirley, where he acted alongside Art Garfunkel, who was friends with Penny Marshall.

'I got to hang out with him and that was probably one of my more exciting experiences,' Lipkin said.

Lipken spent 20 years in Los Angeles 'but I talked about moving for 15 years,' Lipkin said.

'I hated Los Angeles but it's a trap.'

The Lipkins, Shelly, Suzanne and son Alex, finally moved to Lake Oswego in 1998 and Shelly has stayed busy ever since.

Along with teaching classes, Lipkin continues to act in local productions. In 2004, he starred in the locally shot film 'Mean Creek.' He recently directed plays for Cygnet Theatre and he is constantly writing.

Currently he is working on another play, which is a fictionalized account of the suicide of his brother-in-law's brother.

If he had to concentrate on just one artistic medium, Lipkin said he would choose directing.

'Everyone says they want to direct but I think it encompasses a little bit of everything,' Lipkin said.

But, with his recent success as a playwright, Lipkin has no plans to give it up any time soon.

'The beauty of writing something is that, once you're finished, you have something tangible. And I love inventing characters and situations and exploring humanity,' Lipkin said.