Peggy Rubin is the director of “Pompadour,” a new play by Molly Best Tinsley now playing with Ashland Contemporary Theatre. The one-woman show stars Jeannine Grizzard, ACT’s artistic director. Peggy and I visited in her lovely Ashland home.
EH: You came here with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival?
PR: Yes, I was an actor here for three summers. In 1957, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was already a legend for people who love Shakespeare, partly because Angus Bowmer was such a glorious human being. He loved having people around who were equally skilled and some more so, in certain ways.
Angus knew how to pull people to him, who could catch his dream. I once asked him, when we were in his office overlooking the bricks, “Did you ever dream in 1935 that it would become this?” He said, “All my dreams are open-ended.”
He was so kind and generous to us all, to let us think that we had a part of it. He had this gigantic dream, and we got to play into it and feed from it. It was a wonderful achievement. It’s a great thing to have been part of.
When I came back to OSF in 1972, I was doing public relations, education and acting from time to time. I directed some plays at the college (now Southern Oregon University). Then I went to work with Jean Houston in Sacred Theatre. That was 28 years ago.
EH: How do you compare Jean Houston’s work with conventional theater?
PR: It’s very much like the theater. The difference is that the role you are playing is yourself.
EH: What is your attraction to Madame Pompadour?
PR: This fantastic flowering woman fell in love with Louis XV. To think about what a woman with that skill and that brilliance had to do to stay in love with the king, to make the transference from lover to friend, to support him, and to hold onto power. Because of all of my work with Shakespeare, I understand that premise: the king is god on Earth. He was her god.
I’m sure that once she got a taste of power, she wanted to hold it. It’s very hard to give up power. She didn’t live long enough to learn that (in some ways) it’s a great joy to give it up. She wasn’t old enough to get that peace. Forty-two is awfully young to die.
All of the free-thinking at that time planted the seeds for the French Revolution. Mme. Dubarry, the king’s mistress after Pompadour, got the guillotine.
EH: What does Tinsley’s play “Pompadour” have to say to us today?
PR: It’s useful to look at the women who have gone before. Be grateful for the things we don’t have to do anymore. Look at what power costs. Study power before you decide to grasp it and hold it, no matter what. One of the points of the play is to look at what choosing that life cost her. She did all of this: She promoted art; she promoted schools; she loved beauty; she sought that which endures; she served as well as she could as a counsel to the king, and yet there is a very poignant line in the play, “A woman is nothing.”