Click the play button to hear our interview with Roger Leasor:
Also, see our slide show from Another Part of the Forest.
“When I started performing, it really was as a storyteller in high school, reading to the kids at the public library,” says Leasor, 58.
In subsequent years, he became an actor and a singer at the University of Kentucky, focusing on those crafts.
“But now it comes back full circle,” Leasor says. “What I really want to do is tell the story, and I have all these tools to do it with. I just don’t have the youthful energy to do it or the free time.”
Leasor is chatting in one of the offices of his day job, at the Harrodsburg Road Liquor Barn. As president of the expanding party and spirits business, Leasor has found he spends much of his time overseeing operations in Lexington and Louisville.
He jokes that after Another Part of the Forest, he will enter his 19th and last retirement from the stage. But despite his schedule, some roles are too good to pass up.
“These are opportunities that just don’t come along, Leasor says. “I’ve just been so lucky all my life to be given these amazing roles. It takes that anymore to justify the time, and it takes someone like Ave that wants you to work with them.”
Director Ave Lawyer is the most recent person to lure Leasor out of his umpteenth retirement with the opportunity to play the patriarch of the Hubbard family, playwright Lillian Hellman’s treacherous Southern clan, a group that demonstrates how much emotional terrorism can be inflicted while decked out in formal wear.
“With Ben Hubbard, I was consumed by the fact that he was always conniving, always planning,” Leasor says. “I got the feeling that before he took each breath he was trying to decide which side of the mouth it should come out on. … Well, this is his daddy. Who do you think he got it from?”
Indeed, Marcus is as treacherous as Ben, minus the subtlety.
Leasor says they are both roles that probably startle some who have followed his stage career, particularly recently.
His last few turns have been noble, warm characters – Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, the stage manager in Our Town – roles that seem like typecasting when you talk to Leasor.
Maybe his harshest role of recent vintage is Matthew Harrison Brady in Inherit the Wind, a character whom you had to admit had good intentions, even if you disagreed with his point of view.
There is nothing good or selfless about Marcus Hubbard or his son.
“It’s a little unsettling, but it’s just one more story,” Leasor says. “That’s what you’re here for, to tell the story.”
In the case of these two plays, Leasor really likes the way Lawyer is telling them. Foxes and Forest are “site-specific” productions, produced in the rooms of two of Gratz Park’s most storied homes, the Bodley-Bullock House for The Little Foxes last fall and the Hunt-Morgan House for Another Part of the Forest. As in The Little Foxes, there are only 16 seats available for each performance. But those small audiences get an intimate look at the show.
“This is what I think we all thought acting for the camera was, and it isn’t,” Leasor says. “A lot of people got into acting to be able to do little and tell the story. For the camera, you do little, but you don’t tell the story, because it’s all cut up, you’re jumping around and there are a thousand things going on.”
By little, Leasor means playing quiet, subtle moments that don’t necessarily translate well on a traditional stage. But they do come across well if you are seated in a room with a dozen or so people and the actors.
“This is what you thought it was,” Leasor says. “You thought it was, ‘I’m going to tell the story of Scarlett O’Hara from beginning to end, and nothing’s going to get in my way, and I’m going to tell it to you just like I’m talking over this table.”
Performing in a house much like the one in which Foxes is set was a unique situation for Leasor and his fellow actors. He says it was a huge help in keeping him involved with the story even when he walked off “stage,” because he was still in that environment.
The proximity to the actors also engaged the audience. Some even came close to getting involved in the show, particularly in a scene in which Oscar (played in that production by Paul Thomas) slapped Birdie (Joan Rue).
“One gentleman was halfway out of his chair, and his companion restrained him,” Leasor recalls. “I was flattered when I heard about it, that it touched him in such a special place that he forgot where he was. Isn’t that our goal, to make you forget who you are for a couple of hours? I have a story to tell.”