Willamette Repertory Theatre

Two, two, two in one!

These will both appear in print and online for the April 10 edition of the EW. Um, and they're both by me.

See the pix here:

Harry Thunder (Kevin Coubal) talks to new ladies' maid Jane Gammon (Sarah Ragle). Photo by Cliff Coles.
Out With a Bang
Wild is the right word for Oats


Dagot (Scott Shirk) and Samuel (Dylan Skye Kennedy) with an anonymous egghead in the background. Photo by Michael Brinkerhoff.
Waiting for the End
Local playwright's homage to Beckett at LCC

Read the words here.

Kirk Boyd in the theater space he both loved and loathed.

At an emotional press conference full of hugs, kisses and teary thank you’s, Willamette Repertory Theatre’s Artistic Director Kirk Boyd announced today that the theater company he founded nine years ago would be dissolving after the current production of Wild Oats runs its course.

"And now for the shameless self-promotional part of the deal," Boyd said, as he promoted Wild Oats, which he called a "wonderful 18th Century romp with live music." Wild Oats opens Friday and runs through April 19. Tickets cost as little as $15 for Thursday night performances (and tonight's preview show is as little as $12).

In a statement issued with sometimes shaky, emotional delivery, Boyd said the unanimous decision to cease WillRep’s operations "was made with [lighting designer Michael A. Peterson’s and my] blessing; though it was a painful decision."

"We’ve had amazing support from our donors. That is not the challenge," Boyd said. "There simply wasn’t enough revenue from ticket sales to support the operations at the level that we insist on producing."

Boyd sounded optimistic about the future of theater in the Eugene community, saying live theater "speaks to people in a way that no other art form can."

Boyd recalled a friend who said that theater creates "searing emotional memory." So he bid a farewell, recalling past and current highlights: "Let’s go out on Woody Guthrie’s American Song … let’s go out on A Midsummer’s Night Dream … let’s go out, with our fingers crossed, on Wild Oats."

On the question of the difficulties Boyd encountered with the Hult Center’s cavernous Soreng Theater: "With 500 seats it’s hard to be intimate with this theater. For me the challenge is the proscenium setup. This, on a steady diet, is too formal for people. I like to get into the three-quarters thrust, theater in the round, I like to be a little closer to the audience."

On the question of whether Boyd could continue producing plays in the community using the resources he’s established over the past ten years: "I believe that the professional model can exist in this town. But we have to rethink it. It will probably be somewhere else [in a smaller venue]."

What would Boyd have done differently? Boyd said going into the venture under-financed. "It became crippling on a day to day basis," he said.

On programming of specific plays in order to get people’s butts in the seats, Boyd acknowledged that "it’s always a crapshoot." WillRep's highest attendance was for their production of To Kill A Mockingbird. Their last production, Proof, had dismal attendance.

When asked how the loss of a professional theater company will affect the local arts scene, Boyd said that "professional theater raises the bar all the way across. Theater begets theater. My understanding is the Lord Leebrick’s base audience has increased quite a bit since we came to town. I think there’s a certain respect for the art form that happens so passionately in professional theater."

See the blog post above this one for the full audio of the press conference (using my cheap digital recorder, mind you). And, lastly, GO SEE THIS PLAY.

Kirk Boyd on Eugene actors, Eugene audiences and his dream theater
by Suzi Steffen

This interview kicks off a new occasional blog series for me: See/Hear: The Local Visual and Performing Arts Scene. Sadly, although the Q&A was meant to be an introduction to the artistic director of the Willamette Repertory Theatre at a moment when his final staged play of the company’s ninth season was about to open, it also serves as a kind of valedictory address: The Willamette Rep just announced that it’s closing down after the run of Wild Oats because, frankly, it couldn’t make enough money.

I interviewed Kirk Boyd a couple of weeks ago, and though at the time he seemed concerned about how hard it was for the plays to draw a consistent audience — and I’d heard from other sources how badly the WillRep’s Proof did, financially speaking — he talked about reading scripts for next year and what plays he had picked for the three May Readings in Rep. (By the way, if you already have tix for Readings in Rep, you can get refunds at the Hult Center box office. Call 682-5000 for more info.)

UPDATE: Though I was unable to attend the press conference this morning, our gracious sometimes-reviewer and calendar editor Chuck Adams did. His report and the audio of the whole thing are available here.

On the other hand, we also touched upon the difficulties of the space — Soreng Theatre might be OK for some of the Bach Festival’s Discovery Series, but it’s a terrible, ridiculous space for performing plays — and some of Boyd’s disappointments with the Eugene audience, not to mention the night that all of his scripts (including his director-marked Wild Oats script) were stolen from his car.

Kirk Boyd grew up in Eugene and left for some years to work with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. But he wanted to run his own company, and once he moved back to Eugene, he spent a couple of years getting the WillRep together before kicking off the first season. I wasn’t able to talk much with Boyd on the day he sent out the press release marking the demise of WillRep, but he did say he wasn’t leaving Eugene for greener pastures. “I’m staying right here,” he said.

We talked for over an hour on the day that we met. This transcript has been edited for clarity and because of the subsequent news. As always, Boyd spoke smoothly and with eloquence about a variety of topics, ranging from why the Hult Center should be taken apart and rebuilt to why he preferred the attempt to work with Equity actors.

I encourage readers to share memories of the Willamette Rep and your thoughts about it for Boyd, general manager Michael Peterson and everyone associated with the company in the comments section of this post.

Read more here.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Photo by Cliff Coles; click for larger image of Hal (Quinn Mattfeld), Robert (Wesley Bishop) and Catherine (Kate Cook).

Ghosts and Puzzles
Proof requires leaps of faith
by Suzi Steffen

Games: Number games, word games, logic games … mind games.

The math and science geeks I know play many games to occupy their speedy brains. In David Auburn’s Proof, the author creates a high-stakes emotional game for mathematicians, with intuitive connections that his main character desperately needs others to make — leaps that they, poor fools, can’t quite complete.

Proof played at the Lord Leebrick Theatre a few years ago, and it’s brought back to Eugene on the cavernous Soreng stage by brave soul Kirk Boyd, artistic director of the Willamette Rep. Boyd is stuck with a ridiculous space, but he has a talent for choosing plays that both challenge and please his audience. Proof fits the playbill. The audience gasped, oohed and aahed many times the night I went to the play, demonstrating that most saw neither the Leebrick production nor the 2005 movie with Gwyneth Paltrow. That’s charming and rewarding for the actors and director Pat Patton, an experienced Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor and director.

But is their enthusiasm warranted? The script, despite its Tony Award, has some problems with characterization. The actors at the Rep deal half-successfully with those issues, but the play’s games still have the power to affect and move an audience.

The puzzle the playwright creates revolves around the reconstruction of a time when Catherine (Kate Cook) tried to escape the vortex of her father Robert’s insanity for a life of her own. Robert (Wesley Bishop) was a brilliant mathematician, still venerated by students and colleagues, whose severe psychosis destroyed his career. He has a few months of clarity in the midst of decades of madness, and that time serves as a touchstone to the later setting of the play, when Robert has just died.

Auburn wrote the script, according to director Patton, after learning that “a number of famous mathematicians had suffered from mental illness.” Well, sure. So have a number of unknown mathematicians — along with people who can’t balance their checkbooks. Auburn exploits our fascination with mad geniuses through his characterization both of Robert and of Catherine. The smart, lonely young woman fears she may have inherited her father’s madness, and her older sister Claire (Megan Smith) worries about that too.

Claire’s a thankless role, one that Smith plays with an unfortunate accent and attitude (along with unsuitably frumpy costumes). Claire took care of Robert and Catherine financially while avoiding the emotional strain of dealing with them. She flies in for the funeral to dispose of everything and whisk Catherine off to New York — which is “so much more fun” than “dead” Chicago. To emphasize the “dead” theme, scenic designer Nadya Geras-Carson provides unseasonable dry leaves beside a strong yet dilapidated back porch.

But there’s life in Chicago yet: Interspersed with the stilted interactions between the two sisters are Catherine’s flirtations with Hal (Quinn Mattfeld, quite the most solid actor in this show) and remembered moments with Robert. Bishop, playing a mad/sane/mad father and genius, can’t resist chewing some scenery but provides a few touching moments as well.

Mattfeld goes a long way toward helping Cook, as Catherine, settle down. She’s all brittle cheekbones and oddly clipped phrases in the beginning, perhaps trying to show Catherine’s potential instability, but her gawkiness and wild-eyed stares leave the audience confused about why Hal would find her attractive.

And is Catherine delusional? Auburn balances that question through to the end, with feints and flashbacks slowly providing the clues to the puzzle’s solution. Cook must dance a highwire of depicting Catherine’s neediness without making her pitiful. She’s lived in hell with her father, but she won’t find heaven in New York or in Hal’s arms. As the audience learns the truth, Catherine must find a way out of her father’s shadow and into her own life.

Proof runs through Feb. 24 at the Willamette Repertory Theatre. Tix at www.hultcenter.org or 682-5000.

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