by ASHLEY BRUCE, Cascade A&E Editorial Intern
Maralyn Thoma’s career has been “a wild ride from the beginning,” as she puts it. Experienced professionally in dancing, writing, acting and movie producing, Thoma will now embrace a new role: host of the Bend Follies as well as starring in Helen on Wheels, on stage at 2nd Street Theater.
Thoma was born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in Houston, Texas, and her career started at age 15 when she traveled with friends to Las Vegas and stayed to become a chorus girl at the Sahari Hotel. A year later, at her mother’s insistence, Thoma returned home to finish school. Upon graduation, she took a job as Summerstock dancer, one of eight girls selected.
“I knew from an early age that I was destined to be a performer,” she comments. “I wasn’t afraid of anything—it didn’t occur to me to be afraid.” Fear aside, Thoma pursued a career on Broadway in New York City, where she danced for 10 years. She moved from New York to Los Angeles with two small children in tow. She felt California would be a better atmosphere for her daughter and son. In 1980, Thoma landed a scriptwriting job at Columbia Pictures, where she worked on soap operas Santa Barbara, General Hospital, Days of our Lives and Passions. In 1991, her writing on Santa Barbara won her an Emmy.
Four years later, Thoma decided on a more “peaceful” career and moved to Bend. In 2001, Thoma opened 2nd Street Theater, where she has been “involved in producing shows ever since.” Recently, she has been rehearsing for Cricket Daniel’s new play at 2nd Street Theater, Helen on Wheels, which plays through April 12. This is her first time performing in a play since 2008 and she says it is “a thrill to be asked to do this one.”
Thoma plays Helen Wheeler, a gun totin’, whisky drinkin’, granny living in the small town of Crockett, Oklahoma. When Helen isn’t locked up in the local clink, she’s on her front porch shootin’ up critters. Not even the local sheriff, who’s already taken away all of her ammo, her driver’s license and her NRA card, can manage to uphold the law when it comes to Helen and her sidekick, Zona and their daily Thelma and Louise antics.
Thoma is energetically preparing for her role as co-host in the Bend Follies, a lighthearted comedy aimed to raise money for the Tower Theatre Foundation. She will be joining Chuck Arnold, the executive director of the Downtown Bend Business Association. Thoma was very flattered to be asked to co-host with Arnold, whom she says, “has great improv skills.”
“He is a very funny guy,” Thoma added, “We’ll have fun together and will do our best to make the audience enjoy it…he’s going to be the comedian host, and I will be the Betty White side-kick.” Executive Director of the Tower Theatre Foundation, Ray Solley, jokes, “The pressure is now on Thoma and Arnold and Ruder [Follies producer] to extend our one-year winning streak, damn it!”
But, the pressure doesn’t concern Thoma. She concludes, “As I said, it’s been, and still is, a great ride.”