'STUFF' collects new meaning over time

November 23, 2008

Ten years after its debut, playwright, actors return to work with fresh insight


Among the boxes, amid the dust, a new story is emerging. It's one that's been a long time in the telling — and the people involved are as much in the story as it is in them.

The scene is an old warehouse, and two old Army pals have been tasked with clearing out its contents. As they come together, however, unspoken histories come to the forefront, allowing the men a chance to settle their spirits and move on — not so different, it could be said, from the playwright and actors themselves.

STUFF, written by Jim Reyland and featuring Barry Scott and Matthew Carlton, sees its full premiere in December, almost 10 years since its critically acclaimed workshop debut. Back then, Scott and Carlton read their lines from the then-defunct Belcourt Theatre stage. It was 1999, and Reyland was a relative newbie on the scene, before penning seven plays and three musicals.

But this time around, the three accomplished men see the piece with refined focus, renewed energy and creative ideas for taking it to the community. Not only will it be held in a renovated downtown warehouse that will serve as home to a variety of shows and workshops in coming months; but it also will benefit the area homeless and give audience members the chance to take part in walk-on roles and lunch discussions in turn for financial support.

"This piece started out as a piece of fiction, but it became a piece of reality," says Reyland, best known in the theater world for his play Shelter and the work-in-progress 21 Baker Road. "It was written as a vehicle to express some of the thoughts and ideas I have about tolerance and living together with people who are different than you are. After we finished with the production in 1999, the exact dramatic thing that was happening in the play happened in real life at Fort Campbell, Ky. It gave us the impetus to make sure we got the message out. It made it even more important to keep it moving forward."

Every couple of years since, like-minded friends Reyland and Scott, along with Carlton, have reconvened to read new drafts. The piece, billed as poignant and funny, originally had a third character, but the latest revisions took the cast down to two. And finally, with the 10th anniversary in sight, they knew it was time to give it a shot. Reyland shopped the idea to several area theater companies, but after getting no bites, decided to put it up himself. Friend Steve Armistead, a developer, donated the warehouse space for the run, and others have provided lights, sound, sets and other necessities.

"There's been a lot of great energy from people who have wanted to participate however possible," Reyland says. "It's been a wonderful collection of talents coming together."

As for Scott, he says the No. 1 reason he chose to take part was that it was Reyland doing the asking.

"I love Jim," Scott says. "He's one of the most serious writers I know anywhere. He's prolific, engaging, transparent and open to collaboration. And that's life-blood for the artist. When he says, 'I have the energy,' then I have the energy, too."

Scott sees the play's angle as more relevant than ever, as well, with issues of homosexuality, race and discrimination recently populating the headlines.

"But I'm looking at things from a different perspective as I get older," Scott says. "I was having fun on stage 10 years ago. I'm still having fun now, but I have more understanding as an artist, and more understanding as a man. And understanding is transformational. . . . Barry Scott has stuff, too, that he needs to let go of."