In July of 2013, by a vote of 6-0, the Portland City Council made standing in a median strip illegal. Though couched in language about public safety, it was widely seen as a move to stop panhandlers from working the car lanes.
Now, more than a year later, Portlanders are still talking about median strip panhandling and the issues of compassion, giving and poverty raised by the failed ordinance.
“To ban people from standing on the medians, spending time on the medians, took the lid off all of these feelings, emotions, attitudes, principles people were kind of holding to themselves about all of these larger issues,” said Al D’Andrea, director of a new play dealing with the median strip saga.
“Anything Helps God Bless,” by the Snowlion Repertory Company, premieres in two workshop performances this weekend. It’s is based on the actual words of those directly involved with the panhandling debate in town.
“The entire play is constructed 100 percent from the words of the people involved,” said Margit Ahlin, producing director, “including people you know: the mayor, the city councilors, lawyers, the police — characters like that — as well as the [panhandling] signers themselves.”
D’Andrea, writer M.K. Wolf and the cast used official transcripts and fresh interviews with players in the controversy to piece the show together.
Recognizable characters include city councilors Ed Suslovic, Jill Duson, Nick Mavadones and Kevin Donoghue, as well as Mayor Michael Brennan and Police Chief Michael Sauschuck.
Members of the media, including this reporter, were also interviewed for their insight and memories of the story.
“It’s a kind of a community conversation,” said D’Andrea, who does not promise easy answers for the audience.
The play goes up for two performances only this weekend, Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 11 at 2 p.m. at the Portland Ballet Studio Theatre. Both performances are followed by a talk-back with the company.
Visit www.snowlionrep.org or call 207-518-9305 for more information and reservations.