I met Sue Neuer some years ago at the front desk of a favorite Cannon Beach hotel. She knew me as the writer frequently on the road for work. I knew her as the innkeeper who tried to accommodate my need for peace and quiet so I could work. It was only later, when she invited me to the Coaster Theatre for the evening’s performance, that I learned that while innkeeping might be Neuer’s day job, her passion is the theater.
On Friday, Neuer opens in her 18th role at the Coaster, starring as Myra Bruhl in Deathtrap, a comedy-thriller by Ira Levin that holds the record (four years) for the longest running play of its genre on Broadway. The play is about a down-and-out playwright who sees hope in a student’s script and devises plans to stage it as his own. “There are a lot of twists and turns,” said Neuer, who plays the playwright’s wife. “Several people die.”
Neuer and I sat down to talk about what it’s like to be an actor in a town where odds are most everybody really does know your name. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
How do you juggle community theater — auditions, learning lines, rehearsals, performances — and a full-time job?
Neuer: Fortunately, I’ve had employers who are supporters of me doing theater and I do my own schedule, so I do it around my rehearsal schedule. You have to carve out the time, when it comes to memorizing your lines. I am a procrastinator when it comes to doing that. I record all my lines and listen to them while I am in the car.
Are you recognized locally first as an actor or innkeeper?
I’m very actively involved in the community. I’ve lived here a while (11 years), so people know me for all sorts of reasons. I have tourists come up and say, “Oh, I saw you in this or that play.” But not a lot of locals support the theater. There are some regular patrons, but I would say the majority of people are tourists looking for something to do. We have some visitors who are season ticket holders and plan trips to Cannon Beach based on shows. That’s always fun. We have some guests who try to plan their trips to take in a show while they’re here. There are locals who have never stepped foot in the theater. They think it’s a movie theater. I don’t say we don’t get the local support, but it’s weird — you’re either into theater or you’re not. If you’re not familiar with what it is, you have to be introduced by other people.
How did you get involved in theater?
I was kind of a late bloomer. I didn’t do it in high school. I started in college when I took an acting class. I like doing musicals, because I love to sing and dance. It’s only in the last five years or so I started doing plays. It’s just something I do in my spare time. I enjoy it. I’ve made great friends. Theater is just in my blood.
What do you like about your role in Deathtrap?
It’s been extremely challenging for me as an actor. I go through a lot of arcs. My character is kind of sickly. I get progressively sicker and I’ve also been drinking, so I have to be a bit tipsy.
What makes that challenging?
It’s hard enough just playing one character, but I feel I have to play a couple because of the changes I go through.
How many plays do you do a year?
It depends. Sometimes you audition and you don’t get cast. I’ve gone a year without doing a show. The maximum I like to do is two. This year I am doing three. I was in Odd Couple, then Deathtrap and then …
What’s your favorite Coaster Theatre memory?
Oh, man. Most of them are backstage, behind the scenes no one gets to see. When I played the Wardrobe in Beauty and the Beast, I had to walk sideways because the costume is wide. It’s a chest of drawers. I had to get from one side to the other. So I went to go down the stairs — there’s only three — and I was on the bottom and I fell and I couldn’t get back up. I didn’t hurt myself, but it was hilarious. I was just sort of dangling in the air. I was like, “Help.” The Beast was watching me, and he and one of the other characters had to help me up. I wish we had a videotape because it was hilarious.
What are the pros and cons about theater in a small town?
One of the problems with small-town theaters is they have to pick shows they know they have the talent for. The reason I am in the show now is because hardly anyone showed up to audition. It’s hard getting men and young people to come out. We can’t do shows that have any ethnicity. We don’t have the diversity of population like they have in the cities. We could never do West Side Story, for example.
What about it brings you joy?
I live a block from the theater, so I don’t have a commute time. I am lucky that way. It’s just a darling theater. We’re really lucky to have it here.
Next, you are going to play the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, opening in November?
I am. I am so excited. It’s ironic because I love to sing and I don’t get to sing, but I’m excited.
Is it hard to play witchy?
No, I’ve been typecast. I like playing bitchy parts. I don’t consider myself a bitch in real life, so it’s fun to play one on stage.
Deathtrap runs weekends through Oct. 27. For details on times, days and ticket prices, check here.