Renee Hewitt plays Rona Lisa Peretti, the successful lady Realtor and former spelling champ, in “The 25th Anniversary of the Putnam County Spelling Bee,” now playing at Oregon Cabaret Theatre.
A mother of two young boys, Hewitt credits her “great husband” for her ability to balance her family life and theater.
“I always say that my success is my support system,” she said.
We met for supper at Dragonfly restaurant one evening before a performance.
EH: How did you get started in theater? Was it high school?
RH: Actually it was. I have been singing since fourth-grade. My mom has always sung around the house and been involved in choirs now and then. That’s kind of where I get the singing from is her. I took dance for 20 years, but I don’t consider myself a dancer. I didn’t actually start acting until my junior year in high school. I just fell in love with it. I just absolutely revel in getting into characters, and figuring out somebody’s head and how they work and why they respond the way they do.
EH: What is it about theater that gets us all so excited?
RH: Sometimes the theater takes us out of where we’ve been — it’s a nice release from situations that you are in that are really stressing you. It’s nice for two hours to not think of whatever it is. I kind of think that “The 25th Anniversary of the Putnam County Spelling Bee” runs along those lines.
EH: But it has so much more to it.
RH: That’s what I like about the play. It could very easily be a show that is fairly one-dimensional. It’s funny, and you bring up audience volunteers and have fun with them, and you could leave it at that. But it is so much deeper with these characters. You really get to see the lives of these characters. There’s so much heart to the show, as well.
EH: Your character doesn’t get to reveal herself so much.
RH: Not so much, no. Bruce Lorange, who was in “I Remember Mama” at the Camelot, is a successful local Realtor, so I asked him about it. I said, “You’ve got to tell me about Realtors. What would make a successful woman Realtor? What kind of person?” He really gave me some really great insights. He told me, “You have a way to take every conversation and turn it around and make it about you. (We laughed.) First of all you’d be very competent. It’s because, as a Realtor, you’re the commodity. Anybody can come in and sell that home, so you’re the commodity, not the house. It’s actually you, because you want people to by from you.” He was the one that turned on the light for me. There had to be some reason why she was always trying to talk and trying to get her little two cents in, but why? When he said that, it made a lot of sense. And I got the badge. He said, “They’ll always be dressed to the nines, they’ll always look like they’ve come out of a sales conference, they’ll always be coifed to the nines all the time.” So that’s why I asked for a Realtor’s badge, so that I could have that on. (Hewitt speaks in the voice of RonaLisa), “You know, there’s always the opportunity to sell a home. You never know who in the audience might be looking.” (We laughed.)
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” runs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays with brunch matinees at 1 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 30 at Oregon Cabaret Theatre. For tickets 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 studied acting at The American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.