10 years in, Barebones Productions keeps things rolling


By Vincent Smith / Staff Writer

Barebones Productions, a Pittsburgh theatre company, has the humblest of humble origins.

Nearly a decade ago, Patrick Jordan, the artistic director and founder of Barebones, put on a play in the basement of a bowling alley with nothing more than a power strip, a desk and a chair. The sound of bowling balls rolling across the floor could be heard through the ceiling. He paid for the minimal expenses out of pocket.

Jordan expected ten to 15 people to show up. Instead, nearly 80 people came.

“When this first started, it was going to be a one-off,” said Jordan. But after the initial show of support, Jordan kept Barebones going.

On Thursday, Nov. 21, the company will debut its latest performance, “The Motherf**ker with the Hat,” a play written by Stephen Guirgis. The performance will be held at the New Hazlett Theater and will run through Dec. 7.

This is the second play by Guirgis that Barebones has performed, and it marks another installment of modern, hard-hitting plays that have come to characterize Barebones’ style.

Just like the first play that Barebones performed back in 2003 — “Bash” written by Neil LaBute — “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” has never been performed in Pittsburgh before. Jordan saw a trend of newer plays being passed up to make room for the old staples.

“There is an amazing amount of playwrights that weren’t getting any play in [the city], and everybody was just doing the same kind of theater,” Jordan said.

So in response, Barebones made sure that they would bring a new type of theater for a new type of crowd.

“We try to attract newer and younger audiences by doing plays that my friends and I would have wanted to go see,” he said.

“The Motherf**ker with the Hat” immediately grabs attention with the expletive in the name. The play itself is just as physical and emotional as the title implies.

There is also something very special about this upcoming performance. “For the first time ever, we are going to have an actual set with this show,” said Jordan. Although this set is simplistic, Barebones has clearly come a long way since performing in bowling alleys.

The play follows the story of Jackie — played by Jordan — who is released from jail and reunited with his girlfriend, Veronica, played by Ruth Gamble. After the initial jubilation over Jackie’s return, things turn sour when he finds another man’s hat in their apartment. The story then follows the troubles of addiction, love and inner-city life.

The play is one that resonates with audiences due to its setting and its believability. Although “we may not all be addicted to coke [like Veronica], we all have little addictions,” Gamble said.

When asked about her character, Gamble laughs at how brash and crude Veronica is perceived. But for Gamble, the character is much more than someone who spouts a considerable number of F-bombs. “To me, she’s an idealist, and she has a huge heart,” she said, adding with a laugh that Veronica is also pretty “ballsy.”

Director Rich Keitel believes that the play is relatable because everyone knows someone who talks the way the characters in “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” do. “They are not characters far removed from the world,” Keitel said. They are not “dressed up in suits or ruffles from the Restoration Period.”

Considering that they started without an advertising budget, Jordan believes that the consistent crowds Barebones is able to bring in to see performances are a mark of dedication to the actors’ craft. By bringing a unique twist to the theater, Barebones has shown that it fills a unique niche and that rougher theater is, in the words of Jordan, “commercially viable.”

“I’d like to think that people show up to this show because after 10 years, we have a brand, and there is quality to it,” Jordan said.