Times are growing just a bit tense these days as the crew behind Rising Tide Productions readies to open the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning play, “Doubt, A Parable.”
They’ve been at work on the play for just short of a year, logging long months of planning, rehearsing and attending to the myriad tasks that often translate to sacrifice and headaches.
It’s not an unusual picture on the Oregon Coast where theater companies seem to abound. But here in Nehalem at the newly remodeled Performing Arts Center, there is, perhaps, just a bit more jitter than the usual soon-to-be opening night nerves. This cast and crew are doing it all under the scrutiny of veteran Hollywood actor George Dzundza.
You know Dzundza from his acting roles in TV and film, including “The Deer Hunter,” “Crimson Tide,” and “Basic Instinct,” but these days he’s known as the director, and for a lucky few, acting coach.
“Working with George is like taking an acting class,” says Sue Meyers Neuer, who plays Mrs. Muller in the play. “He has extremely high standards and is a perfectionist. He can be intimidating to some who take his comments personally. He is brutally honest sometimes, but he is always right. He has a keen eye for details and wants the actors to be the best they can be. This is the second time I have worked with him and I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
As a young man, Dzundza didn’t envision a career in acting, rather, he says, it came after he was blackmailed. It happened as he stood in line for college freshmen orientation.
“This blond walks up to me and says you have to come and audition for this play.”
“Not happening,” Dzundza replied.
“She said if you don’t come audition I’m going to tell your professors and they’ll flunk you out of school,” Dzundza said.
So he auditioned and won a part. “I go to this play and I get that adrenalin rush and I said, ‘Oh my goodness, this is great.’ Once you find something and you love it, you go, ‘Wow I like this’.”
Which is not so different to his response to the Oregon Coast, where he has made his home for the past decade or so.
“I feel like I am in heaven on earth here,” says Dzundza, who was born in Germany and raised in New York. “I see the community here functioning like I always hoped America would function. There is enormous generosity. Neighbors going out of their way to help neighbors. Having come from a city like New York, where you are out alone in concrete and steel, or you go to L.A. and you can’t get anywhere without a vehicle … To come here and be able to breathe the air and look at the ocean and bay, the greenery. And the quiet. To hear the birds singing in the morning. I just consider it a blessing.”
Curtains open on “Doubt, A Parable” at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturdays, July 14-29; and at 2 p.m. Sundays, July 16-30. Expect to see an edgy, thought-provoking production that asks, “What do you do when you’re not sure? When evidence is slim and consequences are severe, how do you find justice and protect the innocent?”
“We tend to take plays that have a harder edge and are thought-provoking,” says Dzundza. “Hopefully people will benefit from it and it will spark conversation in audience members themselves to examine their own values.”
These past 10 months have seen challenges, struggles, growth and rewards. And when it’s finished, Dzundza hopes they’ll do it all again.
“When you are trying to achieve something, it can be frustrating,” he says. “The time frame and ability to achieve are limited by life going on around the people involved. The rewarding part of it is when someone gets it and says ‘Ah, I don’t need you anymore.’ That is wonderful to see, to see someone fly on their own. They spread their wings so to speak. What is always true is you give it your best shot. All you can do is give it your best shot. It’s all part of a process. You progress and you keep making progress. That’s the point, it’s progress not perfection. Keep going forward; never give up.