Arts & Culture

Celebrating its 81st season, Very Little Theatre revives ‘The Country Girl’

In a small, half-dome shaped building off of Hilyard Street sits the Very Little Theatre, where community theater productions have taken place since 1929. As a volunteer-run organization, the Very Little Theatre offers the Eugene area a taste of local theater and acting as well as more than 80 years of theatrical history and performances.

As a part of its 81st season, the theatre’s current production “The Country Girl,” by Clifford Odets , runs from Jan. 15 to Jan. 30. “The Country Girl” features an insecure alcoholic who is aspiring to become an actor, his meddling wife and their personal struggles for fame and success.

Chris McVay, the director, has been a member of the Very Little Theatre since 2006. McVay has since been in several productions at the theatre, such as “Amadeus,” “Enchanted April” and “Rumors.”

“The Country Girl” gives the audience a chance to see the relationships evolve between the characters, McVay said.

“The story is about failure and self-deception, but also is a study in how redemption may be found in the most unlikely of places,” McVay said.

Bill Campbell, who plays lead Frank Elgin, has been involved with the Very Little Theatre for almost 10 years. In his role as Elgin, Campbell plays a once-famous actor who becomes consumed with drinking and can’t act anymore until a young director comes along and tries to straighten him out.

“The production certainly shows the power of love, the evil of drink and the possibility of a second chance,” Campbell said.

Although Campbell has been active with the theatre for years, many long-time members make the community theater a center for local talent.

“There’s thousands of years of experience here when you add it all up, people have been doing this here for a long time, and although a lot of members are retired, they remain incredibly active in the organization and pass on a lot of good information,” Campbell said.

Very Little Theatre’s Scott Barkhurst, publicity coordinator, has been an active member of the theatre for more than 30 years. With the help of senior members, some who have been participating for more than 50 years, the theatre tries to give the community a balanced number of comedies, dramas, musicals and classic performances.

The Very Little Theatre stresses its survival through most of the hard times that occurred during the last century. Along with its extensive history displayed within the theatre’s walls, the Web site breaks up its unique history into categories.

The first era is referred to as the “PillBox Era,” where the theatre moved into a drugstore on East 13th Avenue, and put on productions at the University’s Johnson Hall during renovations. In 1935, the theatre transitioned into the “Barn Era,” and finally moved into its current building on Hilyard Street in 1950.

“The VLT also offers anyone the opportunity to participate on-stage or off-stage, regardless of prior theater experience,” Barkhurst said.

The Very Little Theatre emphasizes its “commitment to artistic excellence, and the advancement of theater arts shall not be for professional gain, but for the love of theatre,” as stated on its Web site.

The theatre’s size adds to its community-like feel, and its volunteers help keep the love of theater in everything they do. The last part of the theatre’s mission statement is important because all the theatre members are volunteers rather than salaried staff, Barkhurst said.
Barkhurst said the theatre’s small size creates a space where community members can comfortably explore the arts on-stage and backstage.

“Because we own our own building — a real theater, not a converted space — and have made many improvements to it over the decades, our audiences have come to regard it as a warm, inviting place to bring their friends and family,” Barkhurst said.

Among walls of photos from more than 80 years of past productions, community members can enjoy the familiarity and history of the Very Little Theatre.

The theatre strives to put on classic presentations that remain unrivaled in the Eugene theater community, Barkhurst said. The theatre’s previous classic productions that once graced the Broadway stage have ranged from “Death of a Salesman” to “Cat on a Tin Roof.”

“We are committed to offering the community the opportunity to join in the choosing and producing of local theater that both entertains and enlightens,” McVay said.

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