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The summer she graduated from high school, Julia Sweeney paused as she worked behind the concession stand in the faded, elegant lobby of the Fox Theater.
From beyond the big double doors she could hear the waves of laughter as audiences watched the antics of John Belushi and the rest of the cast of "Animal House," the movie that would become a cult classic.
The moment sticks in her memory for several reasons.
"I remember the thrill of being in my uniform," she says. "And I remember the awareness of what happens to people who sit in the audience, the way they all share a moment, share an experience."
Tonight, Sweeney returns to the Fox, but she won't be in the lobby. She'll be on the stage. And she'll be sharing moments from her own life with an audience that includes friends, family and strangers from her hometown.
Sweeney has an impressive resume. After working as an accountant at Columbia Studios in Los Angeles, studying acting and improv comedy at the Groundlings Theater and creating a cultural icon - the androgynous "Pat" - during a successful stint on "Saturday Night Live," Sweeney went on to write for the groundbreaking HBO series "Sex and the City."
Now she's writing for another TV blockbuster: "Desperate Housewives."
Sweeney also has produced a series of one-woman shows. After her brother's death and her own cancer diagnosis, she put together "God Said, Ha!' " which debuted in San Francisco in 1995 and went to Broadway the next year.
In 2003 another life-changing decision led to another monologue.
"When I was 38 I woke up and realized I had forgotten to have a family," Sweeney says. "I didn't have a spouse or a uterus, but I wanted a baby."
"In a Family Way," the show Sweeney is bringing to Spokane as a benefit to raise funds for restoration of the Fox, chronicles her decision to adopt a 16-month-old girl from China, and the challenges of being a single parent.
Daughter Mulan, now 6, will accompany Sweeney to Spokane.
"Oh, she loves it there," Sweeney said in a telephone interview from her home in Los Angeles. "She stood up and announced to her class that she was going to Spokane."
Sweeney takes pride in the fact that she remains close to old friends and has kept her hometown roots intact. She tries to get here at least four times a year.
"Spokane is part of Mulan's psychological landscape," she says. "She loves the carousel, the big red slide in the park and she always wants to go to 'the place shaped like a milk bottle.' "
And Sweeney loves the Fox, which the Spokane Symphony has purchased and is renovating as a concert hall.
"As soon as I saw that they were restoring the Fox, I thought, 'This is my calling,' " she says. "I had already performed 'God Said, Ha!' in Spokane, talking about what happened to me, and my brother's death, and it was so meaningful."
Sweeney sees performing "In a Family Way," on the stage in the theater where she worked her first job, as a way to give something back.
"That theater is part of my life," she says. "It was down the street from the (federal) courthouse where my father worked, and where I got my first job."
Living in Los Angeles, but visiting Spokane whenever she can, keeps Sweeney connected to the past and the future of the place she grew up.
"It is a little bit thrilling to be the person on that big stage in that big beautiful theater talking about my life and my desires," she says. "Really, it all started for me at the Fox."
SIDEBARS:IF YOU GOJULIA SWEENEY Julia Sweeney will present her one-woman show "In a Family Way" tonight at 7 at the Fox Theater, 1005 W. Sprague Ave. Tickets are $45, through the symphony ticket office (624-1200) and TicketsWest outlets (325-SEAT, 800-325-SEAT, www.ticketswest.com).FAST FACTCONTEST WINNER Donna Deshon, the Sandpoint woman who recently won the title of biggest "Desperate Housewives" fan in a national contest and appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America," will be a special guest at Julia Sweeney's benefit performance tonight at the Fox Theater. Deshon, who submitted an amateur video and answered trivia questions to win the contest, will be introduced to Sweeney, who is a writer for the series. Sweeney will answer questions from the audience after the performance.
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