Couple in 'Roses' finds 50th anniversary is not so golden

ran Nov. 21, 1997

The News-Review

Take a look around the set of "Red Roses, White Roses" for some clues about the union of Hannah and Harold Preston.

The decor is austere, bordering on fusty. All is tidy and functional.

Sofa and wing chairs appear comfy, if not particularly attractive. There's lots of dark wood on spindly legs.

Fifty years after their wedding day, the Prestons are about to find out their marriage is more fragile than their old furniture.

Family life - its irritations, disappointments, agonies and comforts - is the engine that runs the play directed and written by Roseburg resident Richard Packham.

It's a ride worth taking.

Packham can attribute the drama's success to his ability to tap a universal theme.

We either came from a family like this or we've known one well enough to wince in recognition.

The script has both conviction and compassion.

On the eve of their anniversary, the Prestons are welcoming their four children and in-laws home for the community gathering honoring the golden couple.

There's some preliminary bickering about religion - two of the kids have it, two don't. Daughters-in-law square off for some comic sorties on lifestyle choices while Dad cranks out homemade peach ice cream downstairs.

A typical family reunion.

Less typical is the dilemma Dad shares with his sons. He has an ugly secret far more explosive than the ongoing squabbles over faith.

"Red Roses" can't germinate without two strong actors in the roles of Harold and Hannah. Packham chose well by casting Gregg Abbott and Arlene Granger.

Steady throughout the play, Abbott's best moment comes during his halting confession to his eldest son, Robert. Abbott brings sincerity to Harold's passion for atonement. There's a nice bit of impishness later, when Harold admits to some pleasure in his misstep.

Granger is masterful with Hannah's refusal to comprehend the truth about her husband. Where many community actors go overboard in "high drama," Granger makes Hannah unravel quietly. It's far more effective than histrionics.

Less subtle is Natasha Romas' portrayal of Sue Ann, Harold and Hannah's older daughter. Romas can make an audience feel Sue Ann's edginess, but she's a bit too shrill too often.

Still, Romas has a handle on her character even when the grip is too tight. More disappointing is Gary Galbick as Robert Preston.

Galbick has the look of a man sure of his place in the world and less sure how to smooth the turbulence in the family he loves. But he's missing the moves.

His Robert is sympathetic but stiff. Nothing seems to truly touch Robert, who may be mild but shouldn't be inert.

Both Galbick and Jim Dew, who has the part of Paul Preston, rely too heavily on a few gestures such as patting shoulders and thrusting out palms in supplication or reproach.

Comic relief is supplied by Rob Grimes and Sheree Frazier. Grimes is breezy and clueless as Sue Ann's husband, Prescott. Frazier gets to deliver Claire Preston's bitter remarks and puncture the others' holier-than-thou stances.

"Red Roses, White Roses" has a gala opening set for 8 tonight in the Betty Long Unruh Theatre. Tickets for this evening only are $10 and include wine and hors d'oeuvres.

Tickets for subsequent performances are $7. Shows are at 8 p.m. Saturday and Nov. 28, December 5, 6,12 and 13 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 29, December 7 and 14. "Red Roses, White Roses" 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 with permission)