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Introducing a hero who is sure to offend.

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

Benjamin Newman promises one thing about "Ubu Roi," which opens tonight in a Trial by Fire TheaterWorks production at Upstart Crow Studios: Everyone in the audience will find something to be offended by.

If that seems a little over the top, it's at least historically accurate. Alfred Jarry's play sparked a riot so intense at its 1896 Paris premiere that the opening night was also its closing.

The odd play - with its repugnant antihero, Ubu - is considered a precursor to the 20th century theater of the absurd. It was a life work for Jarry, who modeled Ubu on a particularly dislikable teacher he had as a child. But he didn't work any too long on it; Jarry died at age 34.

"Jarry announced he had created a new metaphor for modern man, an absolute antihero: Vulgar, greedy, stupid, fat and vile," Newman says. "This was really his life's obsession. In his later life, he began to dress and act like this character all time."

Trial by Fire TheatreWorks is a creation of Newman, a Eugene boy who headed off to the big city to seek fame and fortune before returning last year, a bit bloody and battered, at least metaphorically speaking.

Now 31, he has performed and directed at Actors Cabaret of Eugene, Lord Leebrick Theatre, Very Little Theatre and Willamette Repertory Theatre, among others.

He created Trial by Fire, which just became an official nonprofit this year with Newman as artistic director, to provide a welcoming environment for artists who, perhaps like himself, feel pushed out by other organizations.

"I haven't felt as comfortable at other theaters in this town," says Newman, who notes that he suffers from depression. "I wanted to create a space that for me feels a bit safer and more open to the artist."

He has attracted a core of accomplished actors to perform in his shows, which tend toward dark, gritty and significant.

The ensemble for "Ubu Roi" includes Barbie Wu and Chip Sherman, two well-known young actors with extensive rsums in Eugene.

The troupe has put on two successful productions here in the past three years: "Kiss of the Spider Woman," based on Manuel Puig's novel of the same name, and 2008's "Beirut," a one-act about the fear of AIDS.

That play was put on at Lane Community College while Newman was still finishing his bachelor of fine arts degree at New York University before moving back to Eugene last year.

"Kiss of the Spider Woman" drew a mostly favorable review in The Register-Guard from Richard Leinaweaver, whose chief complaint with the performance concerned difficult acoustics and sightlines in the Upstart Crow dance studio-cum-theater where the play was performed.

"Does that space have some limitations?" Newman says. "It does. I embrace the challenge. And we learned something from that review. One of his comments was about volume and projection in that space. We've addressed that issue."

There is no definitive script of "Ubu Roi." The eight actors in the performance ensemble - including Newman himself, who also directs - have woven everything from Shakespeare to commedia del arte into a show that presents some 100 characters in clownishly outrageous costumes.

The other ensemble members are Rafael Dwan, Russell Dyball, Emily Hart, Jonathan Nixon and Cassie Ruud.

The play is definitely R-rated material, meaning audience members younger than 17 will need to drag a parent or guardian along.

The performance schedule skips a weekend: There are no performances June 17-20.


Ubu Roi

What: An 1896 French absurdist burlesque updated in a new production by Trial by Fire TheatreWorks

Where: Upstart Crow Studios, 855 W. First Ave.

When: 8 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday, and June 25-26 and July 1-3.

Tickets: $5; call 541-683-1429
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Title Annotation:Arts and Literature; A relatively new Eugene theater troupe is staging a drama that caused a riot on its opening night in 1896
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 10, 2010
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