The Price of Success

Discussing Very Little Theatre’s Sight Unseen with director Darlene Rhoden

Sight Unseen is an Obie award-winning play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies. The play, which opens this week at The Very Little Theatre, takes as its subject a renowned artist and strips him naked of all the trappings of success, leaving almost nothing where a man once was.

Grappling with this delicious script are director Darlene Rhoden and her husband Paul Rhoden, as well as Kari Welch, Dan Pegoda and Ali Thorenson. The following interview with Darlene Rhoden illucidates her journey into this world of radical inquiry into the price of success.

EW: This play has some powerful themes, ideas about religion, family, art, fame, insecurity and success. Has working with this material brought up issues for you or your cast as artists?

Rhoden: The script is a meditation on these issues. Eugene, Oregon, is, frankly, a famously difficult environment for any religiously observant person. Oddly enough, our four-person cast is made up of a Jew, a Catholic, a Protestant and an atheist. I watch my husband Paul grapple with assimilation issues all the time; he yearns to be more religious, but laments that to do so would mean giving up his greatest joy, theatre, due to the restriction of performing on the Sabbath (Friday night). Like Jonathan, he had to make a choice; he can’t live in two worlds at the same time.

EW: You are directing your husband in this play. What’s that like? Is he giving you any trouble?

Rhoden: Paul and I are both extremely passionate about this particular piece, which results in some spirited debates around the house. We adore these characters and this material so much there is little else we’d rather talk about these days. Spending so much time together chewing on this stuff has allowed each of us to discover myriad nuances we might never have found on our own. Paul is easy to work with in rehearsal; he contributes a great deal, but like any decent actor he recognizes his function and so defers to his director. The most awkward aspect working with him has been for the other actors, who could never get used to one of their cast-mates calling their director “Baby.”

EW: What has been most rewarding about directing this play?

Rhoden: I aspire to be a good director. To that end, Sight Unseen has been the highlight of my creative life so far. The material here is so challenging and provocative and my actors are so damned good, it could only make me better. And it has; there are times during rehearsal when I’m literally taken aback at how beautiful, how powerful, this thing is shaping up to be.

Sight Unseen runs April 24 through May 3 at The Very Little Theatre’s Stage Left, 2350 Hilyard St.; $10, tickets at 344-7751 or — Anna Grace