Actress and comedian Wendy Westerwelle wakes up every day feeling fabulous – “Medicare-fully Fabulous” in fact, which is the title of her upcoming show. Playing at the Sanctuary Theater this February, it’s about finally having health insurance and discovering that at 65, she’s never looked or felt better. “I wrote the show,” she says. “It’s about the last part of my life and what I’m doing – love, laughter, relationships and finding my spiritual life again – my Judaism.” Expect Westerwelle to transform into her collection of characters like Aunt Golda Rosenstern from Miami who marries Sol the linoleum king. “There’s Mallory, the new age therapist, a woman who does Botox and my dentist,” Wendy says. “The characters are based on real people, except for Aunt Golda, who is a combination of all my relatives.”
Wendy grew up in Chicago and came to Portland at age 26 after her first husband tragically died of leukemia. That was 1974. She took a job at Old Town Pizza – “where we were all crazy young artists and actors” – and eventually found her way to the Storefront Theater, an avant-garde troupe based on North Russell Street. Soon she was writing plays, the first about a scary high school gym teacher named Mrs. Feldman. “She had a whistle and wore Bermuda shorts and asked the popular girls to choose teams,” Wendy says. “I was fat and had glasses and didn’t get picked.” She also wrote and starred in the play she is perhaps best known for, “Soph: A Visit with the Last of the Red Hot Mamas” about the late, great Sophie Tucker.
Still, Wendy describes herself as in recovery. “I’m a foodaholic, and I’ve lost 130 pounds and kept it off for almost five years,” she says. “At 58, I looked like Humpty Dumpty – 267 pounds. While I was working at a boutique grocery, I fell, broke my knee and was unable to walk. I made a decision.”
With the help of a support group and a return to her childhood religion, Wendy was able to turn her life around. “You need a spiritual practice to get well,” she says. “I joined Congregation Beth Israel and have a Jewish home now. I pray and go to temple, and mostly I’m in gratitude and try to be kind and decent. I practice radical self-care; you weigh and measure food. Every morning I get up, pray, thank G-d and have my decaf and apple.” Wendy lives in Southeast Portland with her husband of 34 years, Mark Larsen, and holds a part-time job at Switch Shoes and Clothing, a Multnomah Village shop that specializes in Israeli products. She also runs her own stylist business, Your Fashion is My Passion. “I’m a style Sherpa, I guide them,” she says. “I look through their closet, give anything away that doesn’t work and create a good look for them that we work on together. People call at 7:00 in the morning and say, ‘I have a gala on Wednesday.’ I go to their house and take them shopping.”
Wendy also squeezes in daily rehearsals for her upcoming play. “About 15 years ago, I did a show called ‘Recovering from Myself,’ ” she says. “It was the beginning of figuring out what to do. ‘Medicare-fully Fabulous’ is more about being 65 and finding out who I always should have been. It’s a show about hope and renewal and being older and loving it. I hope this encourages people who are over 64 or 30 or 20 to live every day as if it’s the most important. Wake up, get dressed and look fabulous. Be beautiful.”
See “Medicare-fully Fabulous” between Feb. 6 and March 2, 2014, at the Sanctuary@Sandy Plaza, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. Showtimes are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2 pm. (no show Sunday, Feb. 9). Tickets cost between $15 and $35. For more information or to purchase tickets visit tripro.org or call 503-239-5919. For more information about Wendy’s stylist business visit wendywesterwelle.com or call 503-231-6577.