For fans of the Netflix documentary, “Wild, Wild Country,” who have always wondered what happened to the 64,000-acre central Oregon ranch that acted as a home base for the Rajneeshees’ cult — yes, the ones who tried to poison residents of The Dalles, Oregon, by spiking local salad bars with salmonella — Camas native Simone McAlonen has got a story for you.
“I had been doing comedy for about five years, living in L.A. and was super involved with the Groundlings Theater, so doing a lot of acting, writing, standup and storytelling when ‘Wild, Wild Country’ came out,” McAlonen said.
The documentary reminded McAlonen, a 2005 Camas High graduate, of a strange chapter in her life: the time her father got a job running a Christian youth summer camp in central Oregon and moved the whole family to the property during McAlonen’s middle school years. The story wouldn’t have been so strange if not for the fact that the Christian summer camp was located on the former Rajneeshpuram, where cult members had once plotted murderous deeds.
McAlonen, who had been keeping a diary since the age of 6, knew she needed to re-read her middle school diaries and see what her 12-year-old self had to say about this chapter of her life.
“I’d expected to read the diary entries and write a play,” she said.
Instead, she realized she’d already struck comedic gold.
“I realized I couldn’t write something better than my 12-year-old self,” McAlonen said.
She took pieces of her diary entries and did a reading at a small cabaret theater in Los Angeles. The show sold out both nights.
“People were really interested because of the documentary,” McAlonen said. “So I approached this director whose work I loved, Kevin Comartin, and he agreed to develop a show together.”
The result is “Wild, Wild Christian,” a show described as “a hilarious and true coming-of-age story about puberty, spiritual evolution and sexual frustration … all while living in a Christian summer camp (awkward!).”
A natural comedian even at the age of 12, McAlonen’s diary entries are fraught with tween drama — like the time she and some other Christian youth decided to go over to what a young McAlonen described as a “haunted house full of bats” once occupied by the alleged mastermind behind the Rajneeshees’ bioterror attack, Ma Anand Sheela, “to pray for her house so that God will get rid of the bad spirits” — crushes on teen boys attending the Young Life summer camp, and a gradual questioning of her religious upbringing.
“The general arc of the show is a girl in middle school who is raised in this very religious community starts to have those middle school hormones and starts questioning the world and her community, and has a spiritual crisis,” McAlonen said. “And there are tons of unrequited love stories.”
McAlonen said reading her diary entries and putting together her “Wild, Wild Christian” show helped her realize the good and bad of those summers.
“For me, living on the property was so fun and so innocent,” McAlonen said. “I met a lot of really good-hearted people there. But, at the same time, there are a lot of things in Christian culture that I think are problematic and harmful … I remember thinking as a child who was readily accepting whatever was being told to her, ‘Bad people used to live here, but we’re good people and we live here now’ when, in reality, it was a lot more nuanced than that.”
As an adult, McAlonen said she can see how similar some of the thinking was “despite the dramatic transformation” from the Rajneeshees’ cult compound to the Young Life Christian youth summer camp. In fact, “Wild, Wild Christian” bills itself as a story that will explore the “similarities from one dogmatic community to another” and McAlonen, who describes herself as “more spiritual than religious at this point,” says she believes in the merits of questioning what you’re told and hopes her show “encourages people to question the status quo.”
McAlonen performed “Wild, Wild Christian” at The Dynasty Typewriter Theatre in Los Angeles and had always planned to take it on the road … and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Wanting to be closer to her mom, dad and brother, and curious what it would be like to live in a smaller city after a decade in L.A., McAlonen moved back to the Pacific Northwest in 2020, and now lives in Portland.
This weekend, she will finally have the chance to perform her show for her “hometown” audience, with a three-weekend run at Portland’s Siren Theater.
She also is excited to show her work so close to Camas, the town she called home from the age of 3 through college. As a Camas High student, McAlonen was heavily involved in the school’s drama program and was student body president during her senior year in 2004-05.
“Since I began writing this show, I knew I wanted to bring it home,” McAlonen said. “It does feel more vulnerable, being closer to where I was when I was experiencing these things … but doing this show close to my hometown is incredibly meaningful to me … and my family has been really supportive.”
“Wild, Wild Christian” opens this weekend, at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10, and shows at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Sept. 10-11, 17-18 and 24-25, at the Siren Theater, 315 N.W. Davis St., Portland. Tickets cost $10 to $15, and are available for purchase online at wildwildchristian.com and sirentheater.com. All guests at the Siren Theater must show proof of vaccination to enter the building and must wear masks while inside. For more information about McAlonen’s “Wild, Wild Christian” show, visit wildwildchristian.com.