‘Good Morning Miss America’ spotlights end-of-life struggles

Multnomah County

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A longtime Portland professor is taking her talents from the classroom to the stage.

Phyllis Yes created a play about a subject no one really wants to talk about but it’s resonating with audiences and shows are selling out.

Phyllis has always been an artist. She’s a well-known painter and has been an art professor at Lewis and Clark College for more than two decades. She retired after teaching for 26 years.

“I taught contemporary art and at the college painting and drawing,” Phyllis said.

Phyllis Yes, March 3, 2020. (KOIN)

And that’s what she was known for up until her first play.

The play, “Good Morning, Miss America,” portrays parents with dementia and their children who don’t know how to deal with it.

“I’m no pro but I can’t tell you how many people said, ‘Did you have a videotape at my house?’ They recognize themselves in the play,” said Phyllis.

It’s a personal topic for Phyllis: she wrote the play after taking care of her own aging mother, an angry stepfather and a sister — all of whom lived in a different state.

“It is such a struggle within the family for safety versus freedom,” she said.

The show debuted in 2018 at Portland’s Coho Theater. It’s since been performed across the country, even off-Broadway in New York.

The cast of the New York production of “Good Morning, Miss America,” undated. (Courtesy: Phyllis Yes)

It also caught the attention of a top hospice care doctor in Minnesota who now joins the audience after the play for a panel discussion about end-of-life issues.

Phyllis knows such issues can be complex but hopes her play sparks a conversation about a serious subject — with a few laughs sprinkled in.

“I’ve been in audiences before and I’d like to leave with a little glimmer of hope, if not happiness and at least there was love in the end.”

Phyllis said that, despite the hardships, there was a lot of love between her family. One example she shared was her stepfather telling her mother, “Good morning Miss America.” Those words meant a lot, especially in the days before her death. They also inspired the name of the play.

You can see “Good Morning, Miss America” on May 16 at Mirabella Portland, a retirement home on the South Waterfront.

If you’re struggling with end-of-life issues, have questions or want assistance on safe and supportive environments, here are some local resources:  

KOIN 6 News anchor Jennifer Hoff’s series, Women Crush Wednesday, highlights women who are crushing it. Who do you know breaking the glass ceilings, inspiring others, doing good?  Send a message to Jennifer Hoff.

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