Jessica Godber sits in a downtown Scottsdale Coco’s, noshing a sandwich with a small side of career crisis.
"I’m just in this state of confusion," she says between bites before play rehearsals. "I’m constantly trying to think if I’ve taken the best path."
Godber, who made her Valley theater mark with a critically acclaimed turn in Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre’s production of the musical "Cabaret" and then in Desert Stages’ longrunning "I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change," moved to Hollywood in January.
Six months later, Godber, 24, is back in town.
It’s a brief stay, visiting much-missed friends and family — and taking the lead in Desert Stages’ latest musical, "Sweet Charity."
It’s a time to tell her Hollywood stories — serving Colin Farrell at the California Pizza Kitchen in Beverly Hills ("Seriously," she says, "it’s no big deal.") and starring in a Dodge Ram truck commercial that never made it to TV — and a time to take stock of her life’s direction.
It’s that last part that has her staring into her turkey and tomato.
"I don’t want this to be selfish. I want it to be for the acting, not for the fame," she says. "I don’t choose to be a Paris Hilton. I want it to be more like Cate Blanchett."
"Maybe I should teach, ’cause that would better the world. Or join the Peace Corps."
It’s fitting, then, that she’s tackling the role of Charity Hope Valentine, a capricious young optimist whose dreams (Charity’s obsessed with landing the perfect man) consistently clash with reality, forcing her to rethink her life.
Her return is a somewhat bittersweet affair, and not just because of the mixed response she’s gotten.
For all the people who’ve called the Desert Stages box office eager to see Godber in the new show, there has been the barbed e-mail.
"Some people want to see you come back and fail," Godber said. "I get e-mails that are like, ‘Are you here for good?’ It’s like, c’mon, guys, chill out."
What’s weighing more on Godber’s mind is the death of Gerry Cullity, artistic director of Desert Stages and one of Godber’s staunchest supporters. What doubts she had about her career direction sparked soon after Cullity’s sudden death in March, she says.
"I don’t like not having him here," she says, pushing back tears. "He always called me his daughter. I’m going to miss him kissing my cheek after opening night. He would do that and say, ‘You were wonderful.’ "
Cullity was the one who nurtured her acting ambitions, casting her in leading roles, even throwing her a mockprom after acting in Desert Stages’ "Little Shop of Horrors" forced Godber to miss her own.
With Cullity gone, "Sweet Charity" is being directed by a trio: Cullity’s wife, Laurie, actress Barbara McBain and actor Roger Prenger.
"It’s really confusing," Godber says.
If Godber’s having any second thoughts about pursuing acting, there’s always the voice of Cullity in the back of her mind.
" ‘You’ve got it,’ he’d always say in that little New Jersey voice of his," she says. "He desperately wanted me to do this. I guess I’ll have to trust that."
There’s also little signs that keep falling into her lap. She recently found out she got an audition with a talent agent today — just in time to rush back to play in "Sweet Charity" tonight.
It all fits in with Godber’s one-day-at-a-time approach to life. Which is something Miss Charity herself would do well to follow.
"The funny thing is that I’m not concerned," Godber says. "I know I’m going to do something cool."
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 6 p.m. Sunday, through July 24
Where: Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre, 4720 N. Scottsdale Road
Cost: $22, $20 for students and seniors in advance, $25 day of show
Information: (480) 483-1664