In Play Reviews

More than 45 years ago, on Thanksgiving weekend, a man with $200,000 in hijack ransom jumped out of a plane destined to Reno from Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport. Earlier that day, he’d hijacked a flight from Portland to Seattle. When the plane landed, he freed the passengers in exchange for $200,000 ransom–quite a fortune in 1971. The plane took off. Cooper bailed somewhere over Sasquatch country. Nobody has seen him since, but legends abound.

Rebecca Lingafelter, co-producer and actor in db at Portland’s CoHo Theatre. Photo: Owen Carey

Playwright Tommy Smith grew up with these legends. D.B. Cooper and Big Foot (aka Sasquatch) were his childhood obsessions. In fact, the two have much in common. They’re widely talked about. People think they’ve seen them, which only adds to the legend. And, there’s no proof they’re not out there…somewhere.

Smith’s new play db (co-created with Teddy Bergman, and directed and co-produced by Isaac Lamb) enjoyed its world premiere Friday, January 13, at Portland’s CoHo Theatre. It is a cracking good play. Rebecca Lingafelter is the play’s anchor as Tina Mucklow, the flight attendant who babysat D.B. Cooper during his famous hijack. She lit his cigarettes and filled his glass with whiskey. She is the only person to have seen him up close and talked to him. And as Smith says, “She disappeared into the woods, too.”

Dana Green, Alex Ramirex, Duffy Epstein, and Don Kenneth Mason share the remaining 20-plus roles, which in a 73-minute production amounts to a whole passel of costume changes!

In the play, what happened to Cooper is re-imagined in three different story lines, interspersed with the drama unfolding on the plane that fateful day. They represent only a handful of the possible outcomes from the hijacking. Who’s to say they couldn’t be true? As Smith says, “He could be hundreds of suspects. He could be any of us…My thing is to show how he is all of these things, and nothing.”

I think audiences will love this show. I sure did. It’s fast-paced, wild and crazy fun. For anyone who was around in 1971 and remembers the actual event and its fallout, it brings up the old questions all over again. What the heck happened to him? Did he get to spend all that money? And for those who weren’t, it’s a great anti-hero’s story any way you choose to look at it.

We know he didn’t spend all of that cash. In 1980, a kid wandering along the Columbia River found nearly $6,000 in soggy, rotting, marked $20 bills, part of the money that disappeared with the man. It’s very unlikely Cooper made it through that ice-cold, stormy wilderness night. But, you never know.

Meanwhile, this past weekend The Christian Science Monitor ran a piece about three amateur scientists in Seattle who are analyzing microbes on the clip-on J.C. Penney necktie D.B. Cooper left behind him on the plane. Based on materials on tie, they suspect he was an engineer for the aerospace industry, and further that he may have been a Boeing employee. Which is as good as any of the other stories circulating around out there.

The play runs Thursday-Saturday evenings at 7:30 with matinee performances at 2:30 Sundays through February 4. Those holding Fertile Ground Festival passes may make their reservations to attend the show the weekends of the festival.

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