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From Shelter to Stage: 'Romance' Cast Seeks Home for Actress

An unexpected star is grabbing the spotlight in The Last Romance – the current matinee production at the Bath House Cultural Center. KERA’s BJ Austin reports Irene is a Chihuahua mix on loan from a nearby shelter, and the cast hopes her role in the play leads to a home for her in real life.  

Irene gets the star treatment as she enters her dressing room behind the stage at the Bath House theater. 

“We share a dressing room with Irene.”

There’s a large doggie crate with a fluffy bed inside, but Irene prefers the sofa to relax before going onstage.

Marty Van Kleeck, Bath House manager, says the theatre partnered with East Lake Pet Orphanage for the run of “The Last Romance”, which is set in a dog park. On performance days, Van Kleeck chauffeurs Irene to and from the shelter on Northwest Highway. And before the show, she lets the audience know that Irene, the “star” of the show, is available for adoption.

Van Kleeck:  And so, we hope that she will be adopted before this is all over.

Van Kleek says patrons have been very generous in donations to the no-kill shelter – stuffing bills into a big glass vase in the lobby. But so, far, no home for Irene, and tomorrow is the final performance.

Gene Ray Price plays Irene’s owner in the play.

Price: And we just all hope she’s adopted by then. That’s our concern.

Marty Van Kleeck says Irene, rescued from a dumpster, has blossomed in the theatre.

Van Kleeck:  And it’s just been fabulous because she was so nervous around people. Now, she’s just become this loving little creature, just so sweet and cuddly and charming.

Gene Ray Price admits Irene steals the show.

Price:  She really loves the curtain call. I get her and I bow to the left, to the right, and to the center. 

Van Kleeck says she’s a ham. One performance, Gene Ray decided to put her down on the stage instead of hold her.

Van Kleeck: Well, she headed right to the audience. She was going to meet her public.

Both women say Irene is very well behaved, and a darn good actress.

Van Kleeck: Meissner.

Van Kleeck and Price:  Meissner Method.

Price: The one thing that’s interesting is her name is Irene. Her name in the show is Peaches.  But she responds to Peaches now. Her ears will pop up when you say Peaches.

Mary Lang, also in the play, says all of the actors already have dogs, or cats – they're maxed out on pets.

Lang: It would be the coolest thing on the planet if she had somebody that would love her as much as she deserves.

Van Kleeck says they’re all hoping the final act of Irene’s magical dumpster-to-stage story ends with a new home.  

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.