“Avenue Q,” a sanctioned event of 2013 Pride NW, runs June 13-29.

“Avenue Q,” a sanctioned event of 2013 Pride NW, runs June 13-29.

By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly

Triangle Productions, Portland’s longest-operating LGBTQ theater company, finishes its 23rd season with the original musical “Ari-Maria,” about the romance between Aristotle Onasis and Maria Callas in May, and an encore staging of “Avenue Q” in June.

The company is a labor of love for founder and artistic director Don Horn, who remembers the “anything goes” atmosphere of Triangle’s first few seasons.

“In the ‘early days,’” he says, “Triangle was a place where people in leather, drag, or just being you was okay and it seemed that everyone felt comfortable, welcome and safe.”

That atmosphere changed, Horn believes, with the advent of DVDs and the internet, but Triangle endured, growing into a Portland institution.

Longevity can be tricky, though, and Horn says the company sometimes struggles with balancing the desire to please longtime supporters and need to reach new patrons. He tries to judge each new show by its content, and whether it aligns with the group’s outlook. Given the company’s lifespan, it’s clearly working.

“We have had people who have been coming since the very first Triangle show in 1990,” he says, “and then others that are surprised that we even exist.”

Triangle will launch into its 24th season this fall, starting in September with John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Broadway musical “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” which tells the story of two men, a revolutionary and a homosexual, in a prison cell in Buenos Aires.

In Triangle’s production, the titular spider woman will be former Oregonian columnist Margie Boule. It’s Boule’s fourth appearance in a Triangle show.

“When I was working on the season,” Horn says, “I just thought of seeing Chita Rivera doing the role and what it would be like to have someone of her talent on stage in the role here and Margie came to mind.”

Kander and Ebb, the seven-time Tony-winning show’s authors, are the team behind “Cabaret” and “Chicago.”

Next up, in November, will be “American Fiesta,” a show dedicated to the memory of former Triangle patron Joan Hayward. Triangle is partnering on the show with Third Rail Rep. and Dove Lewis.

“Before she died,” Horn says of Hayward, “She told me that Triangle, Dove Lewis, and Third Rail were in her will, as she loved and supported each organization. What I did next was call, meet, and agree on how we all could participate in honoring Joan. I’m glad I did.”

The play’s tagline, “a show about Fiestaware and marriage,” is derived from a gift Hayward bequeathed Triangle upon her passing last winter of her 200-piece collection of the vintage dinnerware.

In February 2014, Triangle will stage Wendy Westerwelle’s one woman show, “Medicare-fully Fabulous,” about aging.

With March comes the Oregon premiere of Gregory Nauffts’ Tony-nominated play “Next Fall,” which explores a long-term gay relationship threatened by severe health problems. Horn’s own experiences drew him to the material.

“In 2006 my son was in an auto accident on the island of Guam and, with him being in a coma for 46 days, and the fight I had to take up to get him taken care of, I started thinking about my own life and Jeff, my partner’s. I picked up the script, read it, and knew I had to bring it to the stage.”

Triangle is partnering with Basic Rights Oregon to present “Next Fall.”

The season finishes in May, with a play Horn is writing himself about Jim Pepper. The product had its genesis in a conversation he had with a board member about Pepper, which led him to researching Pepper’s life.

“Jim was an American Indian born in Salem who moved to Portland,” Horn says. “As he grew older he moved to New York and began fusing jazz with Native American chants. I thought, ‘I’m part Cherokee and I think this guy should be honored for what he did!’ Jim and his music are very special and he has touched many lives.”

Of the season’s lineup, Horn says, “It’s kinda of a ‘gay’ themed season next year — ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman,’ ‘American Fiesta,’ and ‘Next Fall’ — but, in my book … that’s what Triangle is about: doing what others don’t or won’t do.”

That philosophy aligns with Horn’s motto: “Go out on the limb — that’s where the fruit is.”

“Ari-Maria” closes May 26. “Avenue Q,” a sanctioned event of 2013 Pride NW, runs June 13-29. For more information on Triangle Productions (1785 NE Sandy Blvd.), call 503-239-5919 or visit tripro.org.

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