Actor portrays 24 characters in ‘The Syringa Tree’ at CMC |

Actor portrays 24 characters in ‘The Syringa Tree’ at CMC

Kristin Carlson
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Contributed photo by Alyssa Coan

SPRING VALLEY, Colorado – Director Gary Ketzenbarger knew he wanted to present Pamela Gien’s play “The Syringa Tree” before he knew he could pull it off.

“I pick shows because I like them,” said Ketzenbarger, associate professor of speech and theater at Colorado Mountain College. “And this is one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

The play – a haunting, one-woman show about the destructive force of prejudice and the redemptive power of love – opens at CMC’s New Space Theatre at Spring Valley Thursday, April 15, and continues Friday through Sunday.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Ketzenbarger selected the show for his 2009-10 season not knowing where he would find a young actress talented and experienced enough to master all of the accents and character transformations that the script demands.

Leigh Rogers received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from New York University, where she studied classical theater. While in New York, she also produced an off-Broadway show and worked for the Stella Adler Studio, where she remains an active member of the board. But despite her successes, she was dissatisfied.

“The actor’s life just wasn’t fulfilling to me,” she said. “And being confined to New York or L.A. for the rest of my life made me want to hide under the covers.”

Rogers’ family had spent summers in the Roaring Fork Valley when she was a child. The area appealed to her, and she made plans to leave New York for the mountains. Once here, she quickly landed the lead role in CMC’s production of “Pride and Prejudice” last fall.

As Ketzenbarger watched Rogers play Elizabeth Bennett, he knew he’d found an actress capable of carrying off the demands of “The Syringa Tree.”

Written by actor and playwright Gien, the one-woman show features 24 voices in all, combined to tell the story of a young girl’s growing up in a racially divided South Africa.

“This play is not just a series of monologues,” Rogers said. “The sheer volume of accents and characters make this role unlike anything I’ve ever done.

“When I first saw the script,” she said, “I had two reactions. First, I thought: ‘This is beautiful, exquisite, I love it.’ My second reaction was: ‘No way, I can’t do this!'”

The play begins in 1963 Johannesburg and moves through the end of apartheid, exploring the brutality of segregation and the loving bonds that overcome divisions.

“I chose it because it’s a beautiful piece,” said Ketzenbarger. “But it’s also relevant.”

The performance will likely be Rogers’ last in the valley. She plans to attend the University of Denver in the fall, with the goal of earning an M.B.A. and launching her own theater conservatory.

“I haven’t given up anything by leaving New York, except the rat race,” she said. “This is probably one of the most significant experiences of my acting career. To me, it’s fulfilling the creative process that matters.”

Tickets for “The Syringa Tree” are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors, and are available at the door or by calling 947-8177 or e-mailing

Performances are at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, at the New Space Theatre at Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley Center.

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