Kari Wagner-Peck has produced mounds of stories about raising her son, Thorin, adopted when he was 2, with her husband, Ward.

At Portland Stage’s Studio Theater, 13 of those stories come to life as Wagner-Peck, surrounded by objects that illustrate her tales and backlit by a projection of Thorin’s photography, recounts them live in this one-woman show, directed by Bess Welden.

Thorin has Down syndrome, because of a genetic aberration that alters the typical course of human development and causes physical characteristics that many of us recognize.

He is now 11 years old, so for nearly a decade has given his parents plenty of challenges and joys, which sometimes arise from his condition, sometimes from just being a child and mostly from just being who he is.

Wagner-Peck, who lives in Portland, already has many fans, some because of her altercation with pop culture observer Chuck Klosterman, best known to many as a previous writer of The Ethicist column in the New York Times and for his many books and essays.

Four years ago, she took him to task for his use of the word “retard” in several of his writings.


It was a well-written, vicious and well-deserved takedown that led Klosterman to issue an abject apology and donate $25,000 to the charity of her choice.

Wagner-Peck tells stories about raising a son with Down Syndrome.

Wagner-Peck brings that same fierceness to this show, which runs a bit more than an hour.

Not even those most familiar with her stories, from reading her blog and her book of the same title, will be disappointed in her latest rendition. Wagner-Peck is terribly funny, whether she’s self-deprecating or lashing out at the powers that be in the educational and medical worlds with which the family must so often contend.

Thursday’s preview audience packed the house and laughed hard.

She knows how to tell a story and handles the performance’s scheme – 11 audience members who’ve picked props from the stage determine the stories’ order, bookmarked by the opener and closer of her own choice – with aplomb.

She allows her humor to color even the darker moments she uncovers, and some of what she recounts is harrowing. That, too, had an unmistakable effect on the audience.

While this show could be described as a spectacle of parenting or even a work of social justice, it’s pure entertainment. Wagner-Peck doesn’t give the villains in her stories much slack; it’s her story after all.

But throughout she provides the ultimate gift of any storyteller: a testimony to our shared humanity that derives from one person’s peculiar journey.

Daphne Howland is a freelance writer based in Portland.

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