Eugene Weekly : Theater : 3.5.2009


Nothing Gold Can Stay
Love, loss and the appeal of the forest at local theaters
by suzi steffen

This weekend, head to the theater.

When the Lord Leebrick announced last year that it would produce Rabbit Hole, that seemed both suprising and apt. Surprising because the Oregon Shakespeare Festival put on a highly praised production of the play last season, and apt because the Leebrick’s January 2007 production of playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s Kimberly Akimbo drew praise. Could the Leebrick find a director and a cast up to the task of performing Rabbit Hole, whose subject matter lies in the desperate grief of two parents in the aftermath of the accidental death of their son?

Yes. Rabbit Hole is worth a lot more than the price of a Leebrick ticket. Kudos to director Larry K. Fried and the entire production staff. 

This production hangs upon the tremendous skill of a newcomer to the Leebrick stage. That actor is Mary Buss, who plays the dead child’s mother, Becca. Her every appearance radiates tightly clamped grief, depression and fury. Becca wants to control everything, from how her careless sister Izzie eats Becca’s carefully made crème caramel to the barking of the family dog, and her intelligence makes her a fearful opponent in the horribly realistic, agonizing arguments she has with those who love her and have also experienced loss.

Buss makes the other, capable actors better and sharper in their scenes together. The part of Izzie belongs to Michelle Nordella, an LCC regular who has played a wide range of characters in recent years. Nordella’s vitality, which makes Izzie seem like a near-alien in comparison with her sister, stands in stark contrast to the ravaged, attenuated atmosphere of Becca and husband Howie’s suburban home. Timothy McIntosh, also new to the Leebrick, plays Howie with a bit too much distance, some reactions a tiny beat off as the actor negotiates the script. Still, he’s mostly convincing, and if he and  Fried can work on wider range of emotional expression for Howie, the production will be stronger.

Sparky Roberts graciously plays Becca’s eccentric, cautious, wounded mother, and Patrick Curzon fills the role of an awkward high school student whose need to be forgiven helps Becca thaw. The fabulous set and fascinating costume design both merit longer mention — please go to for more discussion. 

Live theater provides entertainment, glimpses into the lives of others, surprise and reassurance and catharsis. Besides the love and loss at the Leebrick, there’s greed vs. generosity, rural simplicity vs. urban complexity, at the UO. 

Professor emeritus Jack Watson inaugurates the UO’s new Hope Theatre with his final UO Theatre production, a colorful and sometimes charming As You Like It. One of Shakespeare’s oft-performed gender-bending comedies, As You Like It contrasts the greed and treachery of the “civilized” at court with those living a healing, transforming life in the woods.

Watson plays this neatly with a conception of “court” as money-drenched Las Vegas, where corrupted wrestlers and a powerful usurping duke hold sway. But the smartest choice lies in Watson’s concept for the Forest of Arden, where an exiled duke holds New Agey sway over a tribe of yoga-doing devotees. The set, reminiscent of Romper Room blocks, could hardly be more simple, but it serves its purpose without slowing down the piece.

That’s important, for as is often the case, Shakespeare’s full text makes for a lengthy production. Though many patrons express wishes for a coffee-and-pastry bar at intermission, more energy and snap in the production would also help. That needs to come from the tension that should exist when Rosalind (Sydney Behrends), fleeing persecution, dresses as a young man and calls herself Ganymede. She then interacts with her love Orlando (played well as an Angry Young Man by Jared McLean), who doesn’t know the young man is Rosalind.

But no one could mistake Behrends in a cap and button-up shirt for a boy, and that’s unfortunate. Much of the play depends on the apparent success of Rosalind’s ruse, and much potential for sexy drama comes from Orlando’s flirtation with Ganymede. Different costuming for Behrends could help.

The huge cast must include nearly every theater student at the UO, with two male roles going to women (Stephanie Brubaker, underutilized as Corin, and Jackie Bruchman, who intelligently plays depressed scholar Jacques). Most of the students adeptly handle blank verse, making it sound modern and appropriate to the era. An uneven production, but one that holds wide appeal, and certainly it’s hard to go wrong with the script.

This weekend, the Leebrick’s got a lock on deeply felt emotion, and there’s glitz and glamour and goofiness at the UO. Take your pick.

Rabbit Hole runs through March 21. Tix at or 465-1506. As You Like It runs through March 14. Tix at 346-4363. Photos and more info on EW! A Blog