Renaissance woman 

Kate Roxburgh's latest play is just part of the story

To look at her, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear she lives in L.A. Kate Roxburgh, up close, has an outdoors face, cheeks ruddied with wind and sun, squint lines etched at the corners of her eyes. She wears her blonde hair short, pushing wisps back into order as she talks. Her pale blue eyes seem focused but shadowed by something from far off, as if she were looking out over the sea. She could be driving up the Malibu Highway in a white Cabriolet; she could be flirting with a patron as she deposits beer bottles on his table; she could stand around in a wet suit; she could be an instructor at a gym; she could turn up her cuffs or wear beaded macramé or play guitar on the boardwalk in Venice. There’s something about Kate Roxburgh that gives you the sense she could be anything, and this in itself is a highly prized characteristic among aspiring professional actors who head to Los Angeles.

Roxburgh has been living in L.A. for just about a year, after graduating from UM’s Department of Drama/Dance. Born in Twickenham, London, Roxburgh came to Missoula in 1995 because she wanted to climb our rocks. “I just picked out a little spot on a map,” she says, remembering when she had yet to visit America. She had, however, already lived in France and Africa, climbing and exploring, and in Belfast, studying astrophysics. She applied to earn a degree in wildlife biology because she needed a student visa. She had not intended to become an actor, but, tired of academia and needing to rejuvenate, she signed up for a class. Then she transferred into the Drama/Dance Department.

Now, she works the audition circuit in L.A., has scored a few voiceless walk-ons and just finished a visiting semester teaching stage combat back at the Drama/Dance Department. Before she returns to California, she has one more gift for Missoula, a play titled Bobbie Someone, which she wrote over a couple of months last year and then read at the Missoula Colony, a forum for emerging and established playwrights. She also stars.

Bobbie Someone tells the story of a girl coping with her brilliant brother’s gradual descent into madness and despair, which her mother refuses to accept. Set in Belfast, the narrative of the single act moves back and forth between the girl’s childhood and her adult reflections, a switch Roxburgh has little problem with. In rehearsal one recent afternoon, she transformed with lightning self-assurance from the child’s face, open in all its unselfconscious desires, to the woman’s face, harder, resigned and tired. As Bobbie, she writes all the way through the play, usually sitting in the kitchen, notebook flattened on her lap or tabletop.

The character of the ruined brother is loosely based on Roxburgh’s own father, a musician and composer from working-class Liverpool who suffered from schizophrenia. “He’s happy and successful now,” she says, “but for a while he was broke and desperate. So I’ve seen it.” She wrote the play because she was intrigued by the question, What happens to the smart people who don’t make it? In Bobbie Someone, the brother has nearly won the Nobel prize for his work with micro-channel plates, but his illness and addictions thwart him, and he ends up first homeless and then in prison, reciting intense poetry aloud to no one.

It seems unlikely that a writer could fit all this into a single act, but Roxburgh pulls it off in a tight episode that embraces many themes at once: family relationships with their lies and hidden secrets, lost possibility, scientific theory, the anti-scientific theory of the heart that wants what it cannot have. She even manages to address sexism, too, though not overtly.

In her years in drama, Roxburgh has learned that while sexism remains rampant—both in the material chosen for production and the politics of power—she’s not going to get anywhere making a fuss about it. “If you have a point of view as a woman of something that has a little bit of humanity, you get typecast as a femi-Nazi bitch,” she says. “That’s not me, but I do object to the way women are portrayed in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” she says, referring to a recent university production. She feels comfortable expressing her views and opinions to her respected colleagues and accepts that they will disagree. “I got in a lot of trouble for shaving off all my hair,” she says, alluding to her role as Tybalt in UM’s 1998 production of Romeo and Juliet. “I needed to do that to play Tybalt as a man, but as a woman, you’re not supposed to shave off your hair.”

Rehearsal of Bobbie Someone is in its final days, and Roxburgh’s play runs Wednesday, May 28 and Thursday, May 29 at the Crystal Theatre. While director Matt Greseth is out of town, the small cast collaborates on staging and interpretation, turning frequently to Roxburgh, since she wrote the material. One moment, she blocks a bit of business in her regular London accent, the next she’s the young Irish girl. Accents come easy to Roxburgh, but the most difficult one for her by far is standard American, which is also the accent she uses for all her auditions. “I can’t do it cold, though,” she admits. Watching her performances over the years, I have seen her in combat and acrobatics, in intimacy and musical performance. She can be funny, she can be tragic. She’s been young, she’s been old, sexy, harsh, busy, frenzied and fearsome. I seriously doubt that there’s anything this astrophysicist/rock-climber/actor/playwright can’t do.

Bobbie Someone runs Wednesday, May 28 through Thursday, May 29 at the Crystal Theatre. Call 728-5748 for more information. To see staged readings of other plays, check out the Missoula Colony this week through June 7 in the Montana Theatre. Established and emerging playwrights present their work nightly and at 3 PM each afternoon. For more information call 243-6809.

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