Havre Daily News
It's been a long time coming, but “Rugburns,” the first play begun by Montana Actors' Theatre president and playwright Jay Pyette, opened in the MAT/Montana State University-Northern Theatre on Wednesday.
Performances begin at 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday. The play also runs Nov. 16-19.
The comedy begins with Harold, played by Martin Holt, and Susan, played by Lena Lamphier, arguing while preparing for a dinner party. Harold tries to solve the argument by bringing out a piece of carpet from the couple's first apartment.
He makes one rule: Everyone has to listen to the person standing on the carpet.
The argument continues as guests begin to arrive, and soon one comes up with a second rule: The person on the rug has to tell the truth.
That's when things start to get interesting, Pyette said.
“What he sees as a solution to the problem becomes a catalyst that takes it from an argument to a battle,” he said.
“Nobody likes each other,” said director Grant Olson. “The truth starts coming out.”
Pyette said the play is a different production for MAT.
“It's probably more of an extreme farce than we've ever done before,” he said.
“It's an active show,” Olson said. “It starts on a high level and builds on it.”
Olson said the play will bring laughs from audiences, who will probably start to think about its deeper meanings after it's over. The production deals with deeper issues of human nature and relationships, he said.
Pyette said he got the idea for the play's premise while attending a seminar on interpersonal relationships about 11 years ago. A speaker mentioned the idea of the rug, and it stuck with Pyette.
“I thought it was the silliest thing I'd ever heard, and I thought it would be a great idea for a play,” he said.
The rug “ends up getting used and abused by everybody else on stage,” Holt said. “(Harold) ends up getting stung by his own rules.”
The plot takes another twist when characters begin discussing extramarital affairs that may have taken place. The truth stays under wraps until the play's culmination Olson said, but the accusations spell trouble for a passer-by, who other characters tie up because they believe he's involved.
Sam Stuart, who has acted on the MSU-N stage for about 30 years, plays Tim, a meek and mild dinner guest who comes to the party with his overbearing wife, Bitsy, played by Andi Everingham.
Stuart said his character gets stronger as the play goes on, though he has the misfortune of being knocked unconscious six times.
Everingham's character, meanwhile, gets more vindictive, she said.
“Everything he does just irritates me,” Everingham said.
Stuart and Everingham said the short rehearsal schedule of five weeks was a challenge, but the cast was able to rise to it.
“It's been a little stressful,” Everingham said. “There has been a lot more individual work as far as memorizing lines.”
The only couple who gets along is Phil and Phyllis Phillips, a pair of performing artists who spend most of their time intoxicated. Olson plays Phil, while MAT newcomer Stephanie Earll plays Phyllis.
“We are drunks, to be the bluntest,” Earll said of the couple.
Donald Mayer plays the passer-by, a stranger who stops at Harold and Susan's place after his car breaks down. Mayer, who has worked with MAT since the 2000 production of “Hamlet,” said his role presented a challenge to him. Much of his dialogue consists of one-liners exchanged between him and Stuart's character.
“The lines I have are one-liners on top of each other,” he said. “It's been educational. Sam and I have put a lot of work into (those exchanges).”
Pyette worked on the script off and on for several years before finally finishing it last winter. The script has undergone more tweaking during rehearsal, with Pyette, Olson and the actors tightening the lines and ad-libbing.
Pyette and Olson were planning to take “Rugburns” on the road in the spring, but concerns about the size of the cast and set have put those plans on hold. MAT will still go on the road, but it is unknown what play will be performed.
“Rugburns” contains adult language and situations, and partial nudity.
Tickets are available at Creative Leisure and at the door. The cost is $9 for adults and $7 for students and seniors. MSU-N students can get free tickets at the Student Union Building. Beer and wine will be served for a half-hour before each showing.