The Scene Around Eugene
Theater in a mid-sized town
by Suzi Steffen
I have friends who worked in the theater in L.A. One of them is rather fond of making fun of Eugene’s theater scene. I usually defend it. Obviously we’re not L.A. or N.Y. or, well, Portland, but surprises can and do crop up — but those who don’t go to the theater will never know.
|Shipwrecked! opens Sept. 25at the Leebrick|
Any theatergoer knows that there are bad plays, actors who can’t quite make the magic, directors who couldn’t block their way out of Our Town and scripts that cry for revision. Those people still spend hours and emotions on their productions, and it hurts them when reviewers skewer them. But we’re responsible to our readers, whom the theaters are asking for an investment of money and time. That said, Rick Levin, Anna Grace and I admire the work ethic of everyone painting sets, keeping that big ol’ book of notes, memorizing lines, blocking and trying like hell to make this thing work. Sometimes it comes off well, and sometimes it doesn’t, but we’re glad all of the companies exist (and yeah, we miss the Willamette Rep).
The high schools put on a ton of plays and musicals, and even though we don’t review them, we do list them in the regular calendar. Check them out to see upcoming talent. Children’s theater abounds, from Upstart Crow to the Rose Children’s Theatre, and that’s a great way to get kids involved and used to backstage, the front of the house and everything about theater. Roving Park Players puts on free shows in various spaces around the city, and there’s Free Shakespeare in the Park in August.
For those who enjoy popping up to PDX or down to Ashland for Serious Theater Experiences, Eugene has a semi-professional theater company (it pays, but it’s not Equity) in the Lord Leebrick. The Leebrick is where you’re most likely to see a new play, a risky play, a play that tests boundaries, a play that leaves you emotionally wrung out. This year, the Leebrick programs daringly with its opener, Shipwrecked! (opening Sept. 25), and in an odd progressive/conservative manner with its Sarah Ruhl play, Eurydice (that is to say, Sarah Ruhl sold awfully well for the Leebrick last year, but on the other hand, it’s a new play by a female playwright). We hear great things about Fiction, opening Nov. 13, and of course David Mamet’s American Buffalo will be a highlight of the season.
Eugene has one of the longer running community theaters in the country, the Very Little Theatre, which is entering its 81st season with a solid line-up of crowd-pleasers and classics like Neil Simon’s Rumors, opening Oct. 16, and All My Sons, opening May 28. As is often the case, the VLT takes on harder stuff in the Stage Left venue, with The Dresser in the fall and Extremities in the spring. Though the Leebrick had a great run of Ruhl’s Clean House last year, it’s a play that can stand a few viewings, so you might check out the VLT version in March. The VLT has a dedicated corps of members — every one of them a volunteer — and a history of providing space for UO students (undergrad and grad) as they get their start in local theater.
Two of those who got lots of VLT experience are Jim Roberts and Joe Zingo, who run what has become a community- and family-oriented musical dinner theater in Actors Cabaret of Eugene. Zingo and Roberts also provide play readings and excellent support to local playwrights, and it’s always great to see plays in the ACE Annex. ACE is running a full slate of fun this year, from Little Shop of Horrors to January’s CATS (yes! really!), and I know the directors will add more as the year goes on. If you wanted to see The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Hult last year but missed it, check out ACE’s production next spring.
The UO’s revamped Robinson Theatre and new Hope Theatre host a season of plays based on literary works, starting with Big River Nov. 6. Seriously, Huck Finn is more interesting than you might remember from high school English. And Jim Lynch’s glorious Highest Tide comes to vivid life with a stage version in April. We didn’t get a full schedule from LCC, but the college’s excellent Student Productions Association and hardworking theater profs, Sparky Roberts and Patrick Torelle, rarely disappoint us with their energy and ambition.
And in the past year or two, we’ve enjoyed seeing plays and musicals at the Cottage Theatre, a great building right off the highway with a cadre of familiar faces and a devoted core of directors. The 2009 season ends with Marley & Scrooge, and 2010 shows promise for female leads with the amusing Dames at Sea (a musical that launched the career of Bernadette Peters), Evita and Steel Magnolias.
The Scene Around Eugene Theater in a mid-sized town
Broad Strokes/Intimate Portraits Music of the fall
Visions of Loving the Dance Behind the curtain at Ballet Fantastique
Bravo Event Calendar 2009-2010