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Playwright with cancer finds solace in show about death and Jack the Ripper

By Dillon Pilorget | The Oregonian/OregonLive Saturday June 20, 2015    8:00 PM

Somehow, for playwright Darrell Baker, a musical filled with death and despair has been a welcome distraction from his own mortality. Despite the morbid themes in "Somebody's Ripper," a new musical Baker wrote with his wife about the women killed by 19th-century serial murderer Jack the Ripper, it's helped him escape his newly discovered pancreatic cancer on the wings of community theater, a world that has always consumed him.

"I would lie if I said I wasn't a little bit afraid," said Baker, 68, who started his life's newest number with a dose of chemotherapy Wednesday, June 17. "Things are not good at all, but lots of people get over this stuff."

"I may not die," he said.

Banishing all negativity, he's regarding "Somebody's Ripper" and its upcoming staged reading at Theatre in the Grove as anything but his final curtain call. He and his wife, Tina Arth, have already picked up the pen on another play and are hopeful they'll see "Somebody's Ripper" fully produced on some Portland-area stage. Even when it orbits death, theater brings Baker to life.

Reaching back even prior to his first paying role as a 16-year-old chorus member in 1963, Baker's mind is packed with fond memories of roles in "Annie," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Oliver" and more. Together with Arth, he wrote another play, "Crazy Old Man," about Noah's Ark, which was produced last summer at Hillsboro's HART Theatre.

"I've been in theater most of my life," Baker said, speaking too of his devotion to performing live music. "The first time I saw a guitar I wrote a song."

"I took a 10-year hiatus to work a normal job, and I hated it. So I quit." Theater, he said, is "all I do at this point."

But that overarching occupation is not limited to writing and performing in plays. Together, Baker and Arth started their blog, West Side Theatre Reviews, to ... [Full Story]

Photo: Darrell Baker (left) and Tina Arth stand outside Theatre in the Grove June 15, 2015, where the marquis lists their new play about the victims of Jack the Ripper,
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