PortlandTribune.com Portland theater legend is still working his magic
The downside to Jack Featheringill,s first stint as a theater director in five years is that only two actors got to work with him.The venerable, 73-year-old Featheringill, a song and dance man who once shared the Broadway stage with the likes of Robert Preston, Anthony Perkins and Ethel Merman, has been creating art , and artists , since moving to Portland at the end of the ,60s.
Epstein says Featheringill
told him he
had developed some bad habits as an actor, including an intonation that audiences would find ,boring., Though shaken, Epstein realized the director was right.,He
said things to me that were refreshing and disturbing at the same time,, the actor says. ,It was really quite astonishing.I thought, ,Why didn,t somebody else tell me that?, ,Brickner-Schulz, who portrays Nixon,s secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, had seen Featheringill
,s considerable influence shortly after moving to Portland 20 years ago.
carries himself with the quiet elegance of a small town doctor.He
was an energetic young triple threat out of Indiana University
in 1955, when he
skills as a singer, dancer and actor to New York and quickly scored a role in the musical ,On Your Toes.,
But film and TV work were not to Featheringill
,s liking.,They made me sit around and play bridge,, he
says. ,It took forever to set up a shot.The film work lacked the immediacy of the stage.I loved playing to an audience, not a camera.,Moving away from acting roles, he
helped Jerome Robbins cast the original ,Fiddler on the Roof, and came to be in demand as a stage manager.But those roles left him too far from the magic-making.,I love the creative period when you,re working it out in rehearsal,, he
says. ,That,s very exciting.,Armed with a master,s degree, Featheringill
took a teaching job at PSU
, which housed a resident professional troupe called the American Theater Company
.,I was just coming out here for one year and then going back to New York,, he
says. ,That was my intent.,Won over by the city,s charms and the natural beauty of the area, Featheringill
threw himself into PSU
,s Coaster Theater, a Cannon Beach training ground for students that reminded him of summer stock he
,d done in tent theaters in Connecticut, where actors produced a play a week for 13 weeks.,Having to deliver on that kind of schedule, I learned stuff about performing I wouldn,t have learned any other way,, he
says.In Cannon Beach, he
says, ,My first year there we doubled the income from the year before.
...Liane Hiller-Shaw, managing director of Coho Productions, says actors clamored for an opportunity to work with Featheringill when the call went out for ,Nixon,s Nixon.,
,Everybody we mentioned it to said: ,Jack?Really?,, she
says.Says Brickner-Schulz, ,I basically called Jack
and begged to be in it,,In the play, the spry, wiry Epstein makes no attempt to look or sound like Nixon, whose grave visage and tone made him one of the more distinctively mannered presidents in recent American history.That artistic decision, Featheringill
says, was in Russell Lees, script.
Epstein says it was Featheringill
,s stewardship that made it possible:,He
kept tearing everything down to the emotional truth, stripping it down to what,s happening between these two people.,Brickner-Schulz says Featheringill
,s willingness to experiment and to admit his
own mistakes created a safe environment for the two actors.,To have him unabashedly say, ,No, my fault,, made you willing to try anything,, he
would put us in different situations and see how we processed that.He
made us come up with a way to work together.There was tremendous trust.,
Getting the rhythm right
, the project started somewhat slowly.
Less globally, Featheringill
,s has stayed busy in retirement.He serves on the board of the Oregon Partnership,s alcohol, drug and suicide crisis line and is an ombudsman certified to work at long-term patient care facilities.
tasteful Pearl District condo, he
has a clear view of a city that,s evolved significantly and a theater scene that is learning and growing with it, even if he
,s no longer a full-time teacher.,I think Portland audiences are becoming more discerning,, he
says. ,They,re demanding more of the companies and that,s good.,