Barebones productions’ Motherfucker and 10th anniversary

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It’s the final week of performances for this Pittsburgh-premiere staging of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Motherfucker With The Hat — and a good time to note barebones’ unique spot on the local theater scene.

Patrick Jordan and Ruth Gamble in The Motherfucker With the Hat

Patrick Jordan founded the company in 2003, with a production of Neil Labute’s Bash: Latterday Plays. It drew well for a play staged in the back room of a (now-defunct) vintage-clothing store in Squirrel Hill, and things only grew from there.

Jordan — an actor just a few years out of Pitt when he launched the troupe — started doing smart stuff like having rock bands and kegs of beer after the shows, to draw young audiences. (This now-familiar practice was then novel in Pittsburgh.) But his connections in local theater were strong enough that he attracted top-of-the-line directing talent; in barebones’ fourth show, 2005’s Frozen, Jordan starred alongside two of Pittsburgh’s most acclaimed actresses, Helena Ruoti and Susan McGregor-Laine.

At age 10, barebones remains one of a handful of long-running local independent companies still guided by the artistic visions of their founders. (Others include Quantum Theatre, still run by Karla Boos, and Pittsburgh Playwrights, headed by Mark Clayton Southers.)

That’s both in spite of and because of the fact that barebones effectively is Jordan (the company has no other staff) and whomever he recruits as cast and crew for a given show. Most other troupes not affiliated with universities either become more institutional (like the Public or City Theatre), grow big enough to have more paid staff, or simply fade from the scene.

All nonprofit arts groups rely heavily on grants and individual donations. But despite the fact that barebones now sometimes deploys sets of an elaborateness unimaginable for the company in 2003 — Motherfucker features three distinct apartments on Douglas McDermott’s splendid lazy-susan-style set— the shows still basically only happen when Jordan can assemble the resources to stage them.

Given all that, barebones has a remarkably consistent production history. Unlike other small companies, it doesn’t have a set season. But in those 10 years it’s staged 11 shows, and only once, in 2011, did it go a calendar year without staging one. (The next show, Keith Huff's A Steady Rain, is already set to open next February.)

Jordan’s also been quick to jump on up-and-coming playwrights whom other local companies either don’t know about or won’t touch — like Tracy Letts, whose BUG barebones premiered locally a year before Letts won his Pulitzer for August: Osage County, and Guirgis, whose Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train was the first Pittsburgh production of a work by one of American theater’s biggest current names.

All this, and typically strong reviews, despite a penchant for material dark enough that Jordan himself played a serial killer in both The Glory of Living and Frozen — and in 2006 followed those shows with The Grey Zone, Tim Blake Nelson’s harrowing play set in a Nazi concentration camp. So it's not like he's pandering.

And though barebones — which used to stage plays in found spaces — has in recent years found a home at the New Hazlett Theater, Jordan's approach has hardly changed. One of the main characters in last year’s Jesus, after all, was also a serial killer.

And gritty love triangle Motherfucker, despite its plentiful street-level humor, is ultimately (to my mind) about boiling the world down to narcissists and nihilists.

But you can see for yourself at the show’s three remaining performances, tonight through Saturday at the New Hazlett. Tickets are $30-35, and you can find them here.

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