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ACT presents reading of 'The Quality of Life'

When Lue Morgan Douthit, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's literary guru, gave Jeannine Grizzard a script of Jane Anderson's hit play "The Quality of Life," Grizzard was bowled over.

"I knew immediately I had to do it," says the Ashland Contemporary Theatre artistic director.

When Grizzard asked Peter Alzado about directing a dramatic reading of the award-winning play, the Oregon Stage Works founder likewise made haste.

"I'd read it and liked it very much," Alzazdo says.

"The Quality of Life" premiered in 2007 at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, directed by the author. It won the 2007 L.A. Drama Critics award for the world premiere of an Outstanding New Play, the 2008 Ovation Award for Best New Play and was a nominee for the 2013 Jeff Award for Best Production of a Play. The play's success elevated Anderson to elite status, with representation by the William Morris Agency and licensing by prestigious Samuel French.

Grizzard and Alzado, along with Diane Nichols and Jesai Jayhmes, will present staged readings of the play at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18, and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 20, at Ashland Community Center, 59 Winburn Way, Ashland. Additional performances will be at 8 p.m.Friday, Dec. 19, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21, at Grizzly Peak Winery, 1600 Nevada St., Ashland.

Tickets cost $12 and can be purchased at Paddington Station in Ashland, Grocery Outlet in Medford or online at ashlandcontemporarytheatre.org. Call 541-646-2971 for reservations.

The play is the story of two couples with different values, each facing tragedy. Dinah and Bill, a conservative, church-going couple from Ohio, are struggling to keep their lives intact after the death of their daughter. Dinah reconnects with her earthy, liberal cousin Jeannette, who lives in Berkeley, Calif., and whose husband Neil is dying of cancer. Neil and Jeannette have also just lost their home to a wildfire.

"It's like Corn Flakes meets granola," Alzado says. "It's really about people from very different perspectives dealing with tragedy, how they view those tragedies and how they accommodate them."

The show goes to the heart of such hot-button issues as the "right to die," medical marijuana, and alternative versus traditional lifestyles. But Grizzard says it's not simply a liberal screed; rather, the humanity of both couples is fleshed out.

In addition to directing, Alzado will play Bill, the conservative Midwesterner. Grizzard plays Jeannette. Nichols is Dinah, and Ashland newcomer Jayhmes is Neil.

"It turned out we thought I should play Bill," says Alzado, an Equity actor whose lengthy resume includes appearances on Broadway.

Jayhmes is new to the area but brings an impressive resume. He worked and studied in England (at The Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, one of the leading drama schools of Britain), his parents were producers, he taught at Yale and was in a Dutch acting company.

"He has a lean, runner's body and is the perfect temperament for the philosopher-king part," Grizzard says.

"The interesting thing about that play is it's really an affirmation of life, and everything life throws at you," Alzado says. "That no matter what happens, we need to move on and live our lives.

"When we have these tragedies, some people go into depression, some buckle, some commit suicide, some will continue living a full, vibrant, vigorous life."

In the play, Neil and Jeannette seem to have accepted their situation with equanimity, living in a yurt on their burnt-out property and celebrating life with tokes of pot and glasses of good red wine. Bill and Dinah at first are moved by the other couple's ability to keep an even keel. But their sympathy turns to rage when they find out that Jeannette is planning to take her life rather than face life without Neil.

"That's where the play's heart is," Alzado says. "The liberal from Berkeley deals with pain a certain way, the Christian from Ohio a different way. Both are ways we buffer ourselves against the ways life buffets us."

Reach Medford freelance writer Bill Varble at varble.bill@gmail.com.

Left to right: Peter Alzado, Diane Nichols, Jesai Jayhmes and Jeanette Grizzard will present a staged reading of playwright Jane Anderson's 'The Quality of Life.' Photo courtesy of William Babishoff