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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 6.24.10

 

Faith and Exploration on the Boards

This Patch of Sky opens at the Leebrick

by Anna Grace

Richard Leebrick,  Azalea Lewis and  Warren Kluber. Photo by Maximilian Maltz

I believe in this play,” Carol Horne Dennis says, leaning across the table at Allan Brothers. That’s a good thing for a director to say, especially with the playwright sitting across the table.

Greg Foote, the playwright (and retired federal judge), nods. Having written a very funny play about the elusive nature of faith, he’s had to have a heap of it to bring his work to the stage.

This Patch of Sky follows the bookish quest of an overly intelligent teenage boy whose honest and heartfelt questions about God get him in trouble with the law, his teachers and his would-be girlfriend’s father — and ultimately reveal a deeper challenge to his faith. It will touch anyone who ever felt they didn’t fit in high school or had a spiritual crisis. (Eugene, your play has arrived!) The production resonates with the themes of faith and exploration.

Getting a play to stage can be brutal, even for a seasoned playwright like Foote. The script is wrung through the advice of friends, subjected to a staged reading and talkback (where anyone is allowed to offer criticism) and repeatedly rewritten. If playwrights are still standing at this point, they begin shopping for theaters to workshop their plays. For Foote, this is where the Lord Leebrick Theatre and Carol Dennis arrived.

The mutual respect between Foote and Dennis is the lynchpin for this entire endeavor. Dennis likens the process to a sculptor’s, carving away at the script until the true play emerges. But those are Foote’s hard-wrought words she’s taken her chisel to. Scenes have been rearranged, re-scripted or dropped completely. The hardest part to let go of for Foote? “She’s even cut some of my jokes! Funny ones.” 

Dennis justifies her humorcide. “Anything that does not advance the action or directly relate back to the theme of the play goes.”

Foote says he’ll leave the process with valuable lessons in what a director, not to mention actors, needs from a script. Foote and Dennis are working with theatrical veterans like Richard Leebrick, Storm Kennedy and Paul Rhoden, along with talented college students. The actors develop character and influence Foote’s language choices as well.

Dennis’ deep attachment to Foote’s message keeps This Patch of Sky grounded within the flurry of artistic expression. Dennis says the play reminds her of a similar search in her 20s when she found herself Jewish, a lesbian and interested in the life and work of Jesus. Foote’s work is important, she believes, and she says his writing is beautiful.

Playwright are forced to put their work into the hands of others. Foote’s plays will never stand alone but will be subject to the understanding and skill of actors, directors, costumers, set designers and many others, all with a personal vision of the work. In a workshop performance like this one, everyone’s vision informs what will become the definitive version of the script. 

Yet, Dennis points out, an audience ultimately breathes life into a play. Audience reaction is the final element of any production. Every night of the show, talkbacks take place after the curtain falls (or, in the Leebrick, after the lights dim). You can become an intrinsic part of the creation of Foote’s play and play your own part in the artistic process — if you have faith enough to show up.

This Patch of Sky runs at the Lord Leebrick June 25 - July 3.Tix at www.lordleebrick.com or 541-465-1506.