By Evalyn Hansen: After studying speech and drama in college, she landed in Los Angeles with a vacuum cleaner, a cast iron skillet and a Siamese cat named Marco Polo.

In "Holiday Memories," Truman Capote portrays Sook, his aunt and childhood "friend," as a warm-hearted, eccentric woman who taught him life lessons in a delightful way and found joy in the simplicity of life.

Now at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, Sook is played by Brandy Carson, warm-hearted and perhaps slightly eccentric herself. After studying speech and drama in college, she landed in Los Angeles with a vacuum cleaner, a cast iron skillet and a Siamese cat named Marco Polo. "I thought I had packed," Carson said.

After 20 years of doing theater and television, Carson came to Ashland. She has appeared at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and numerous other venues in the Rogue Valley.

Brandy and I chatted with Cabaret Artistic Director Jim Giancarlo after viewing the spectacular vaulted attic set for "Holiday Memories." We discussed the qualities that make the play so appealing.

JG: It's such amazing prose. It's just really a gorgeous language play. This is definitely sentimental but in a genuine way. It's true and it's just so lovely: that relationship, that boy and that woman.

BC: They were lifesavers for each other that 7-year-old boy and the 60-some-odd-year-old aunt. For some reason the universe gave them three really good years.

JG: The fact that he had that this little oasis of genuine unconditional love and affection from this woman, and he was able to experience that for her — we all need to find that good part of ourselves that can help somebody else. They just had such a great bond. And he writes about it so beautifully. The language is so lovely. You do get the feeling that he got a lot of the best stuff out of his childhood from her, from that relationship. She was pretty close to her own inner-child. She could meet him in that place of innocence and they could be there for each other.

EH: Brandy, when did you know that you wanted to do theater?

BC: Being on stage, I did it as often as I could in any school I went to. It was a safe place for me, so I dashed there whenever I could. Now it is not the case, but that's how it began.

JG: Oddly enough for a lot of actors it's that way. People often think that the personality of an actor is that you must have a big ego or you must like to be looked at. Often that's really not the case. Many actors are not that at all. For actors who are ordinarily not outgoing, there's something about the world of make-believe that is safe or comfortable.

When I teach auditioning for musical theater, I tell my students that, the more you are somebody else singing that song, the less you have to be you, being nervous and worried and full of insecurities. So the further that you can go into the character, the safer it is, because it's not you. You're nervous about the audition, but if you're not you, if you are the character telling the character's story and that is all you care about, then what's there to be nervous about?

BC: So where you 50 years ago? Why didn't you tell me that? It would have saved a lot of stress.

JG: Because I didn't know it 50 years ago. (laughter)

Directed by Michael Hume and music by Mark Turnbull, "Holiday Memories" plays through Dec. 31 with performances nightly, except Nov. 23 and 26 and Dec. 1, 8, 15, 21, 24 and 25. Call 488-2902.

Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She has a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's degree from San Francisco State University. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre, and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.