Rosy question: To tell or not to tell

ran Nov. 14, 1997

The News-Review

Fifty years. Five decades. Half a century.

Few marriages last so long anymore.

Hannah and Harold Preston - pillars of the community, parents of four children, grandparents of five - are celebrating their golden wedding anniversary.

Congratulations stream in from relatives, neighbors and fellow church members. The Preston offspring arrive from their homes near and far.

A photographer stops by for an official family portrait.

And just in time.

Before the negatives are developed, the picture has changed forever.

To tell or not to tell is the question behind "Red Roses, White Roses," written and directed by Roseburg resident Richard Packham.

The drama opens Nov. 21 in the Betty Long Unruh Theatre.

Packham said the play will be a success if people walk out of the theater arguing.

Two opposing viewpoints drive "Red Roses, White Roses."

On the one hand is the old adage about confession being good for the soul. On the other is the concern for the harm truth can do.

For the truth is Harold Preston has a secret about the 50-year marriage that looks so flawless. What he should do with that information is the point Packham wants audiences to ponder.

"What I'm hoping will happen is that people question their presuppositions about families and their views of morality," Packham said.

But while the friction leads to shattering dissension, Packham has no interest in jamming white or black hats on his characters' heads.

"I want people to sympathize with every character in the play," he said.

Most of the characters can use some sympathy.

There's Robert, who can't follow his parents' spiritual beliefs and whose wife has never been wholly accepted by the other Prestons.

Sue Ann resorts to the brandy bottle when she's feeling lost;

steadfast Paul has been shoved into the center of his father's dilemma.

And Claire's disgust with her relatives and herself has smudged nearly every facet of her life.

Meanwhile, Harold and Hannah are tiptoeing through land mines.

It's familiar territory to Gregg Abbott, who plays Harold. Abbott's work as a substance abuse counselor has exposed him to many less-than-functional family histories.

"This role is a lot more diverse than some I've done before," he said. "I've had the opportunity to explore and portray a variety of emotions, and I'm still working on developing them (for the show)."

Arlene Granger took the role of Hannah despite her preference for comedy.

She predicts Packham's depiction of the Prestons will resonate with every person who comes to see "Roses."

Granger referred to another production she took part in that dealt with a death by AIDS.

"I got a lot of feedback on that, how it was helpful to watch, almost cathartic," she said.

"I think this might be something like that."

Packham, a retired attorney and former college instructor in languages, doesn't try to hide the source of inspiration for his play. While "Roses" is not autobiographical, it does draw on Packham's memories of his own family.

But the Prestons could be any family of its time and class.

"Universally, that's the reaction I get from people who read the play: That's just like my family!' " he said. "The bickering and the conflict and the disagreements and phoniness."

But also the caring.

"There's no doubt there is love in this family," Abbott said.

"Love, and depending on each other," Packham said. "It's all there."

"Red Roses, White Roses" has a gala opening set for 8 p.m. on Nov. 21 in the Betty Long Unruh Theatre. Tickets for that night only are $10 and include wine and hors d'oeuvres.

Tickets for subsequent performances are $7. Shows are at 8 p.m. Nov. 22, 28, December 5, 6,12 and 13 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 29 December 7 and 14. The show is produced by Umpqua Actors Community Theatre.

Tickets are available at Ricketts Music Store, The Emporium and the Umpqua Valley Arts Center.

Information: 673-2125.

Copyright 1997, Oregon News Network. All rights reserved. This document may not be reprinted or distributed electronically without permission of the Oregon News Network, Roseburg, OR; (503) 672-3321. (Reproduced here by permission)