Lawyer-turned-playwright Jeff Deitch rehearses alongside Mandy Gardner for a scene in Deitch’s play, which opens May 22. /Photo by Steve Eginoire

A Durango love story

Jeffrey Deitch debuts ‘Lies, Shame and Self-Medication’ at Strater

by Stew Mosberg


What: “Lies, Shame and Self-Medication: A Durango Love Story”
When: May 22-24, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Henry Strater Theatre, 700 Main Ave.
Tickets: $15, available for advance
purchase at

If the long-winded title of Jeffrey Deitch’s playwriting debut suggests ambivalence, then he has already achieved a theatrical success. “Lies, Shame and Self-Medication: A Durango Love Story,” actually a series of seven vignettes, is funny, poignant and irreverent, yet presents one common thread throughout: that of moral ambiguity.

Prompted by his personal life, Deitch developed a Neil Simon-like approach to theater. The autobiographically inspired cameo opens with “Intensive Therapy,” wherein Deitch plays himself visiting a therapist, who is delightfully portrayed by 9-year-old Naomi Smith. Discussing sleeplessness brought on by his ethical struggles, the psychological exchange sets the tone for all the segments that follow.

Originally from Washington D.C., Deitch graduated from Stanford University with a degree in journalism and went on to earn a law degree from Vanderbilt. He has been a news broadcaster, a pianist, and a trial lawyer; ultimately practicing law in Durango for 20 years.

Deitch first came to Durango to visit his older brother and the two bought a diner together, which they renamed Oscars, “Because,” says Deitch, “it sounded like a favorite uncle.” They eventually sold it, but the name stuck.

As for broadcasting, he admits he left over disillusionment with news coverage and its de-emphasis of important issues. His satirical commentary about what passes as broadcast journalism today is the theme for “Talk Radio,” featuring Mandy Gardner along with Deitch, plus an ensemble of five others. In it, the two very naïve talk radio hosts, Jen & Ken the “Doctors of Love,” are clueless about dispensing useful advice and continually misunderstand their caller’s meanings.

The seven mini-plays that make up “Lies, Shame and Self-Medication,” according to Deitch, are “not Durango specific and could play interchangeably anywhere.” In addition to the aforementioned moral ambiguity, other topics covered include: government and politics; personal turmoil; family shame; and clergy and confessionals.

The segment titled “Moral Ambiguity,” for instance, is set in an attorney’s office and reflects the dark side of Deitch’s former practice. “I saw people at their worst,” he acknowledged.       

The pieces incorporate references to living personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, Hillary and Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Justin Beiber. There is also a thinly veiled reference to former disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner, portrayed as an over-the-top Brooklyn-ite by Bob Thom. “Anthony” seeks advice from Ken and Jen on how to handle his crisis. The solution offered is to create a government shut-down to distract the public. Sound familiar?

In all, there are 15 cast members, some seasoned and recognizable to locals, others appearing without training or experience but lending an air of reality to the performances. Deitch explained his choices by remarking, “I didn’t always want perfect or polished portrayals.”

Although one pre-teen actor was cast, the show’s themes and language are adult oriented. “I don’t need to shock people with profanity; I want people to talk,” he said. “Many in the audience will recognize the characters and indeed, may recognize themselves.”

“New World,” another sketch, depicts two 22nd century stoners, played by Eli Rosenbaum and Marc West. It’s a time when cannabis is free for all and the United States is no longer “owned” by America. It implies a future that may already have arrived.

For Lori Cole, it is her first time as a stage actress, although she possesses extensive experience as a voice-over artist and singer. Cole met Deitch in an acting workshop at the Durango Arts Center and found they had similar family backgrounds. When casting for “Lies, Shame and Self-Medication” he immediately chose Cole for the part of Becky in the “Diamond Girls” segment. For Cole, “The entire experience has been humbling,” she said and then added, “I didn’t expect to have so much fun.” She acknowledged her respect for Deitch and his talents and that he deserves all the accolades. As far as the work she put in, “I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” she admitted.                               

Bob Thom, a long-time Durango resident and key employee at Kroeger’s Hardware for the past 20 years, is one of the more seasoned actors in the show. He has been in several local productions, most recently in Merely Players’ “Wizard of Oz.” Thom portrays three characters in “Lies, Shame” – two in “Talk Radio” and one as Father William in “My Confession.” In this one, he plays opposite the superbly talented Lisa Zwisler, who also has another part as “Siri” in “New World.” Thom developed a mutual respect for Deitch when the two acted together some years ago and he too was pre-selected by the director when casting the show.

As for Zwisler, she knows Deitch through mutual theater experiences, and he had her in mind when he wrote the part of Siri. “It has been very interesting working with Jeff (as) the playwright,” she remarked. “His writing is so amazing, yet, he is not afraid to change the script if he thinks it calls for it.”

The cast and crew rounding out the ensemble, include: Tim Smith as crew manager; and Selena Trujillo, who is stage manager as well as plays a cameo role in “Talk Radio.” The remaining actors appearing in the vignettes with admirable skill are Judy Hook, Leah Brewer, Cap Allen and Rob Harrington.

Nothing escapes Deitch’s satirical eye and nobody is safe from his whimsical view of the world and himself. As he describes it, “Lawyers, clergy, adulterers, wine snobs, serial daters, therapists and herbal enthusiasts beware: this play is for and about you.”

As a venue, the Henry Strater Theater lends an intimacy and old-fashioned charm that appeals to Deitch, and he is grateful for having the chance to stage it there. Regarding the performing arts in Durango, Deitch mirrors the sentiment of many locals of late. “Durango’s theater scene gets better every day,” he said. This debut play is a testament to that belief and may well help secure Durango’s position as a theatrical scene to be reckoned with, even outside the Four Corners.

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