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Interview

Lesley Fera: Going Bold

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Lesley Fera has the prettiest dress. It's a long thing, a deep shade of red with a sheer black sheath over it, and it has that sort of smoky allure that only a few women can carry off.

The reason I know so much about this dress is that it was her official awards show dress last year, and I spent no small amount of time watching that garment onstage, its wearer graciously thanking everyone. It wasn't really a surprise to see the two of them, though. It's the rare—and brave—actress who can make adulterous sex onstage appear to be both wildly liberating and faultlessly elegant, but it's a feat Fera pulled off last season in Pacific Resident Theatre's production of Lady Chatterley's Lover; her Constance Chatterley was a woman of great wit and unspoken pain, burning desires and social propriety. Fera juggled all of these aspects, and many more, barely allowing a hair to fall out of place.

Others might have been intimidated by the experience, especially because Fera had been a member of the company for only a couple of months when she landed the plum role. It was a large part and ran the risk, as artistic director Marilyn Fox noted at the time, of being perceived as "a sort of softcore porn" if not handled well. Fortunately the ensemble consisted of a number of other performers who were new to the company, thus forming a subset that "really clicked," as Fera put it.

To further complicate things, Lady Chatterley's Lover was developed by director John Vreeke and Mary Machala at Seattle's Book-It Repertory Theatre in a signature style that demands that an actor not only perform but provide a great deal of narrative as well (or, as we refer to it around my house, "that Nicholas Nickleby thing"). It's not a matter of adopting two different performing styles in the same piece, but, as Fera said in a recent interview with Back Stage West, when it comes to the descriptive passages you must "have a connection to everything you're saying and really visualize [so that] you can present it to the audience and they can see it." Otherwise, she noted, "If it's just words, it's meaningless." She managed the deed admirably and took home a Garland Award and an L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award for her performance.

She certainly doesn't confine herself to any particular genre, though. Her most recent role was on the series Thieves, which, due to an untimely cancellation, may go forever unseen. "It was fun, though," she said. "I've never done a role like that before, this sexy-girl-turned-bad kind of thing." When I made the cogent point that Lady Chatterley, too, could be similarly described, Fera added that her Thieves character went "running around with a huge gun across bowling alley lanes." Point conceded.

Through no conscious plan, she has yet to do a comedy onstage in Los Angeles, her last having been the West Coast premiere of Communicating Doors at San José Repertory Theatre. She's currently getting ready to open in the title role of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, again at PRT. Playing a hardened Minnesota farm girl who makes the break to New York City to track down her long-lost father, she sees the role of Anna as being "night and day" from Connie Chatterley, although both are confined by their social position and defined by their actions against it. This run of women who make bold decisions and then live with the consequences doesn't bother her, though. "There's always a reason why you do a play," she said. "I really believe that. The universe brings something to you that you're supposed to learn in your own way. I can't complain." Still, she admitted, "I wouldn't mind doing a comedy."

There's a rather cruel, though not completely unfounded, reputation actresses have in this town for being a bit unkind to one another, but it certainly does not apply to Fera. When I asked if she minded not having taken home the L.A. Weekly award last year, she claimed she was thrilled that it went to Megan Mullally. Later, while discussing television shows she'd really love to do, our discussion of Six Feet Under (she's got her story line already laid out, if anyone is interested) turned into a discussion of her admiration for Frances Conroy and the way she is able to perform "from the heart."

I can imagine that red dress just hanging in the closet waiting to go out and meet new people. Should Fera find herself in a position again where she needs an awards-show dress, though, she abashedly admits that she'd probably go get a new one. I've no doubt it won't be long until we find out what color she goes with next time.

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