Backstage with Evalyn Hansen: Richard Heller plays Major Metcalf in Oregon Stage Works' production of Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap."

Richard Heller plays Major Metcalf in Oregon Stage Works' production of Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap." After acting, teaching, writing, and directing theater in California Richard is in Ashland to finish his education in theatre arts at Southern Oregon University. In the last six months Richard has played in "True West" and "Glengarry Glen Ross" at Oregon Stage Works, "Blythe Spirit" at SOU, and now, "The Mousetrap." We chatted at Noble Coffee Roasting one sunny afternoon.

EH: In "The Mousetrap," Agatha Christie portrays a variety of eccentric characters in bizarre relationships.

RH: She does manage to create a lot of suspense with that dynamic of suspicion and intrigue. There's the whole madness theme, the schizophrenic thing. Everyone in the play is accused of being a little bit mad. There's a whole question of identity that runs through the play. Who is anybody really? There's this whole question of how well we know anyone.

EH: How is it you're in Ashland?

RH: I first came to Ashland in 1977 to go to SOU and to hopefully join the Shakespeare Festival. I actually read for Jerry Turner, and he told me to come back. It just took me 30 years. I hope to get another audition spot at the Festival soon. I'll read for anything: "Put me in coach."

I came back in August this year to finally finish my long deferred education. I've been in theater 30 plus years. I've done shows in parks, out in the woods, at campgrounds, in theaters, in bars; I've done theater almost everywhere that you can do theater.

I'm in school to learn what I don't know, which is a lot. I'm a full-time student. One thing I've learned is people very much respect education and an educational background, and for good reason because these things give us very important tools with which we can be more creative and create a more fulfilling, satisfying piece of artwork.

Being at SOU right now, I see what a difficult art it really is. You can "nail it" and "get lucky"; but really, the analysis, the thought process, scoring your script, charting your character's arc, and all that, requires a lot of thought. Acting is not a given. It's an art and a craft. The great actors work at their craft. They make intelligent choices; and they think about what those choices are going to be. Then they analyze it, they work it, they work their voice, they work their lines. Then they get the magic going, when all that's in place.

At this point in my life, I just really want to work on my craft. Everybody has been very supportive at SOU. As you realize, I am not a traditional student. So, I'm working with 18- to 20-year-olds — just so fresh; and some of the students have a lot of experience. There's a high degree of compassion and sensitivity, and people are kind. It's a great experience. My goal is still to get into the Festival, do a few years there then focus on teaching and writing of plays. That's how I'm charting the next 30 years of my life, which should get me through pretty much to the end. For me it's been a huge learning curve and a huge learning experience. It's a wonderful creative process. It's a gift to be an actor, but it's also a challenge.

"The Mousetrap" plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Sundays through Feb. 28. Tickets and information are available at www.oregonstageworks.or or by calling: 541-482-2334.

Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She has a bachlor's degree in dramatic arts from UC 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.