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The perils of a Czech in America

Couple brings humor to the story of their immigrant experience

COURTESY PHOTO - Mark and Helena Greathouse, a husband and wife music duo, will present 'You Do Speak English, Dont You?,' a lively cabaret-style show, at HART Theatre Feb. 27 at 2 p.m.HART Theatre is closing out the month on Feb. 27 at 2 p.m. with “You Do Speak English, Don’t You?,” a special performance by Tigard’s own Helena and Mark Greathouse. The duo often performs musical variety shows in vaudeville fashion, and has written two group dance books and recorded CDs featuring original piano compositions and Czech and Slovak folk songs.

The production is an original variety show detailing, in song and story, the often-humorous misadventures of a Czech immigrant living in the United States. The situations in the performance are actually precisely based on how Helena met Mark at the University of Hamburg in Germany in 1968 during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and her experiences with meeting people in America.

“There were a lot of misunderstandings with her because of the way she spoke,” said Mark. “People thought she spoke Spanish.”

The material is all original. People didn’t know how to react to Helena’s pronunciations of English words at times, so she collected her personal stories over the years. After retiring, the couple decided to go into show business, and attended a standup comedy course with the goal of creating the one-hour show.

“We knew the material was good and had potential, and we decided to make a show out of it,” said Helena.

The show is interspersed with Mark’s own accordion compositions, and he accompanies Helena in singing some of the songs. Mark has played the accordion since the age of five. And from age seven throughout her childhood, Helena sang on the Czechoslovak National Radio and performed in musicals in principal and leading roles on both the Czechoslovak National TV and live theater in her native Czechoslovakia.

“I met her in 2009 when I cast her in a play in Beaverton,” said Paul Roder, HART’s artistic director. “They’ve wanted to do this show at HART for over a year, I’ve seen them perform songs together before — very unique, more than a little eccentric, and unforgettable.”

The Greathouses have performed the show many times at different places over the last two years, including the 2014 Fertile Ground Festival, which focuses on new work in the arts and features world premiere projects, including staged readings, developing works and a ton of other arts events from Portland’s creative community.

Tickets are $10, and can be purchased at hart-theatre.org or at the box office the day of the performance. After the show, the Greathouses will have a question and answer session in which the audience can get to know a little more about their lives.