August 7, 2008, by Jamie Kelly, Missoulian
THE MONTANA ACTORS THEATER presents “Rugburns,” a play by Jay Pyette, Aug. 13-15, 8 p.m., at the Crystal Theatre, 515 S. Higgins. Tickets are $15 per person or $25 per couple. Call (406) 945-2904. There is adult language and brief partial nudity.
They come from Houston and Maryland and Seattle. They’ve cut their theater teeth in small towns and big cities. And they’re performing a road show in Missoula next week from their home base in Havre.
This is theater done the Montana way.
Many theatergoers in Missoula may have never even heard of the Montana Actors Theater, a professional theater company that has been in existence for 15 years. Based out of Havre and loosely associated with Montana State University-Northern, the MAT tours the Hi-Line and gets big crowds in Havre, but rarely makes it over to this side of the Divide.
But with their second show in Missoula beginning next week and with the promise of more to come, audiences will get to know this independent group of Hi-Liners a lot more in coming years.
“Yeah, the mountains kind of separate us,” said Grant Olson, vice president of the company and the director of next week’s “Rugburns.” “But we’re really starting to expand.”
Most of the actors in MAT have plenty of experience in theater, and many of them have their degrees in drama and have decided to stay in Montana.
For Deborah Voss, who is originally from Maryland and got her bachelor’s degree at the University of Northern Colorado, the Montana Actors Theater is exactly what she was looking for in a professional company: It’s independent and flowing with creativity.
“It’s really great to work with people who have absolutely no inhibitions whatsoever,” she said. “We have fun. We have a really great time. And I feel like there’s nobody in this room who doesn’t want to be here and work hard. It’s refreshing.”
Audiences who packed the Crystal Theatre for last June’s “ART,” the MAT’s debut in Missoula, remember the group well. The Crystal, notoriously tough to get a good crowd in during the summer months, was filled on each of the three nights of the independent production.
Next week, MAT returns with its second show, a
90-minute farce written by MAT cofounder and Havre High School drama teacher Jay Pyette.
The play stretches the limit of the insult school of comedy, placing otherwise normal people in a place where they feel free to lash out at their spouses and friends.
Pyette once heard a psychiatrist give a lecture in which he recommended that people in conflict resolve their feelings by standing on a slice of rug, giving them the floor to vent freely.
“He thought that was the stupidest idea he’d ever heard,” said Olson, a Havre High School graduate who has worked with his former drama coach on several MAT productions.
So Pyette turned that stupidity into comedy.
In the play, a married couple invites over some friends for a dinner party. But the couple is having problems, and before the guests arrive, the husband pulls out an old slab of orange rug, making it the place where he can stand and vent his grievances.
It isn’t long before the guests – a married couple – arrive, and quickly join in on the game. What starts at first to be a serious attempt at communication becomes an uncomfortable airing of deep and embarrassing secrets.
“In a way, the rug starts having this superpower,” said Olson. “It’s meant to solve all these problems, but it just ends up being the tool of their destruction.”
And it becomes a character itself in the play, the catalyst for all sorts of mayhem. When a stranger walks into the house, the house guests tie him up and duct-tape his mouth, and use the rug to try and guess who he is and what he’s doing there.
In the end, all the characters in the play are irrevocably changed.
“All their priorities are changed by the end,” said Olson. “The rug actually makes them change their lifestyles.”
Sex plays a big role in the play, and there is some slight nudity.
Beyond that, the cast doesn’t want to go into great detail about the plot or the ending of “Rugburns.”
“Let’s just say we’ve had to order in a pair of size-12 pumps,” said Olson, laughing.