At the beginning of this week, I learned about the passing of an elderly theater friend, Eugene Rubenzer.
Eugene and I worked together five years ago in a show called A Bright Particular Star. Our scene interactions were limited until our director, Mike Landers, asked Eugene to help me with something.
A monologue of mine was proving tricky—I was supposed to be describing a life-defining event, where my father looked into my eyes and said, My girl, if you want to be an actress, then that is what you must do. As a seventeen-year-old actor, as much as I wanted the moment to feel real, it was falling flat. Mike asked Eugene to improv the moment with me—take me by the arm down the magnificent aisle of an 1800s theater, then look into my eyes and say those words.
Eugene did. I looked into his eyes, felt my stomach lurch upwards and my breath stop, and I thought, this man is a star. I’ve heard that his credentials were very impressive—to this day I don’t know them. Few people remember the actor he was. Looking into his eyes, I was blown away and felt that I had witnessed something holy. I’ve worked with exceptionally fine performers. Eugene, in a scene that wasn’t even in the show, topped every performance I’ve ever been a part of. I felt like I was gazing into the eyes of an awarding winning actor, who was giving me this moment—just for me, just for little old seventeen-year-old me, so that I could become a finer actor, too.
I remembered Mike yelled that’s it! the next time I rehearsed the monologue, because it was there, then and forever after, and that was all Eugene. He transformed what I did.
I never saw Eugene again after that show, but I will never forget what he did, the life-moment he gave my character. I am one of many people who will never forget the gift he was: an exceptional actor and a wonderful man.