Life lessons from a dead goat, following a real-life tragedy

Following the death of Mark Chamberlin, a longtime actor and board member with New Century Theatre, 'O Lovely Glowworm' must, and will, go on this weekend.

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Mark Chamberlin, a longtime local actor and NCTC board member, died March 22 following a bike accident.

Following the death of Mark Chamberlin, a longtime actor and board member with New Century Theatre, 'O Lovely Glowworm' must, and will, go on this weekend.

What can we learn from a play about a stuffed goat stuck on a trash heap? According to director Roger Benington, we can remember why life is worth living.

O Lovely Glowworm is a play about such a goat, who, unsatisfied with his current condition, works hard at dreaming up a better story of his life. And while he is mostly inspired by commercial product packaging lying around him — the waste of the Irish community that threw him out in the first place — he divines magical and uplifting narratives starring unicorns, mermaids, wacky inventors, and more. (And Harmony J.K. Arnold’s costumes promise to make these roles shine.) A prisoner in circumstance and in body, the goat is raucous and free in his imagination.

Written by Glen Berger, the play seems on par with three previous productions by New Century Theatre Company (NCTC) — The Adding Machine, Orange Flower Water, and On the Nature of Dust — in which unique characters and their ordinary problems (crappy bosses, cheating spouses, crazy mothers) exist in slightly askew yet familiar universes where time is gently bent, reality is quietly distorted — and the theater becomes the much needed antidote to a world that is saturated with “real-time reality.”

In fact, in the often upside-down world of NCTC shows, unfathomable events shown through a whimsical prism become a little more tangible, a little easier to move around in your head.

This description, unfortunately, is made more accurate by a recent tragedy that occurred while the play was still in rehearsals.

Mark Chamberlin, 55, an established local actor and NCTC board member, was expected to play the goat in this production. Shockingly, he passed away on March 22 from complications following a bike accident.

The loss of Chamberlin creates a noticeable hole in this community. With over 20 years experience in this town, he had become a familiar and respected face in productions throughout the regional theater circuit, including Seattle Rep, ACT, Seattle Shakespeare Company, and Taproot. A husband and father, he also devoted his time to various off-stage activities including renovating houses, cycling, and volunteering for the ALS Association.

NCTC has decided to dedicate Glowworm to the memory of Chamberlin. Company member Michael Patten has replaced him in the role of the goat. Jennifer Lee Taylor, Peter Dylan O’Connor, and MJ Sieber, among others, also star.

When asked how the team has coped with such difficult loss behind the scenes, Benington, striving to keep a positive outlook as he geared up for opening night, focused on the core message of the play, which is all too apropos:

“This is a play about a dead goat that comes back to life because he’s in so much pain — and he creates these scenes of great beauty as an attempt to escape his pain. I love that throughout the play characters keep coming back to life. They find reasons to go on living — big reasons like love and faith. There is humor in this, but also something profound.

“The play asks: what would you live for; what would you come back to life for?

“One of the gifts that we have, as we perform the show, is that the experience of Mark’s death informs the work and gives another layer of meaning and significance. It’s very sad, but life does go on. And the play honors him.”

Benington, who also directed the American premiere of "Shine: A Burlesque Musical" at Theatre Off Jackson, along with several productions at Washington Ensemble Theatre, also contributes his set-design skills to this production. Instead of depicting a literal trash heap, or Irish countryside, the set asks audiences to take an immediate leap of faith, and orient themselves to watching a talking goat perform in front of a giant swan.

Thank goodness.

At a time of profound loss, there’s no better backdrop than one conceived out of this world.  Especially one in which unicorns make you giggle and goats remind you to do the best you can with whatever little heap you can call your own.

If you go: O, Lovely Glowworm, New Century Theatre Company, through May 14 at Erickson Theater, 1524 Harvard Ave. Tickets cost $5 to $25 and are available by phone (800-838-3006) or online. Donations can me made in honor of Mark Chamberlin’s memory to the Evergreen Chapter of the ALS Association.


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