BLOOMFIELD HILLS – Clown wives.
Admit it: You read those two simple words – clown wives – and all sorts of crazy images popped into your head. And they’re still clamoring to get out.
“It’s brilliant,” said John W. Rutherford of the 10-minute play “Clown Wives” that his Barebones Theatre Productions will stage Aug. 6 at Ferndale’s Ringwald Theatre. The piece is one of seven short comedies by local playwright Kim Carney – collectively called “The Way It Is” – that Rutherford and his six actors will present first in Ferndale and then again Aug. 8-12 at the acclaimed Minnesota Fringe Festival. The production was recently named one of the top 20 shows to see at this year’s Fringe. “It’s hilarious.”
Rutherford, head of the theater department at Wylie E. Groves High School in Beverly Hills, created Barebones in 2000 as an independent theater that challenges up-and-coming actors with roles they might not otherwise have an opportunity to play. The focus is on the literature and the acting process, Rutherford explained, and not on elaborate sets or beautiful costumes. Nor is he concerned about making money. “Each year, I’m sort of surprised it keeps going.”
Most of his actors are former students who have gone on to study theater in college. And the operation truly is “barebones,” as the nomadic troupe has no space of its own in which to perform. Instead, Barebones relies on the kindness of others to host its annual, summertime shows. “We always joke, ‘if worse comes to worse, there’ll be a tent set up in my backyard,'” Rutherford laughed.
Initially, Rutherford staged obscure plays that weren’t being done at the college or community theater level. But over the past few years, the emphasis shifted to working with local playwrights. And since Rutherford and Carney had known each other for several years through their mutual connections with local Heartlande Theatre’s Play-by-Play Festival, the director approached the playwright and asked if she had any short plays his company could use. “And boy, did I send him a bunch of stuff,” Carney said. “I have years’ worth of short stories.”
Carney, a Lansing native whose recent full-length plays “Moonglow” and “The Home Team” received critical acclaim, enjoys writing 10-minute plays. “It’s a fun thing to do, because it has all the elements of a full-length play – a beginning, a middle, an end, a protagonist, rising action, a climax – but it’s a challenge to do it in a short form. It’s even more of a challenge to do it as a monologue – and two of (the short plays in “The Way It Is”) are monologues.”
Rutherford eventually whittled the scripts to seven comedies, most of which have a connection to Detroit. That’s particularly true of “Greektown Story” (two waitresses compare their big fat Greek arranged marriages) and “I Love Christmas” (a Wyandotte outdoor decorator is a little too obsessed with the holiday).
Then there’s the aforementioned “Clown Wives,” which first saw light as a comedy sketch performed by Carney and former Detroiter Marie O’Donnell as part of their “Kim and Marie” show at New York’s famous Producers Club. “Kim’s writing always has a twist to it,” Rutherford said, explaining why he chose these particular plays. “You go from laughing at to empathizing with each and every one of these characters.”
Even the wife of a clown who wants a divorce.
After performing three back-to-back shows in a single night at The Ringwald, the troupe will leave at 4 a.m. for a non-stop drive to Minnesota. “That’s the difference between working with 20-year-old actors rather than 40- or 50-year-olds. They can pack, hop in (the car) and go. I don’t know if I’m going to make it,” the director chuckled.
“The Way It Is”
Barebones Theatre Productions at The Ringwald Theatre, 22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. One night only: Aug. 6 at 7 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets: $12. For information: 586-292-2738 or http://www.barebonestheatre.org