In his 10th year of bringing edgy plays to Pittsburgh, Patrick Jordan has come across a problem that, like the plays that resonate with him, has no easy answers.
How do you promote a show with a title that says it all, but no one wants to say it?
Asterisks, dashes and such helped get the word out on "The Mother------ With the Hat" when it was on Broadway for 112 performances in 2011, and now the-play-that-must-not-be-named has made its way to Pittsburgh via barebones productions.
Mr. Jordan, an actor and the company's artistic director, founder and year-round staff, is a fan of playwright Steven Adly Guirgis' work, having presented his gritty drama "Jesus Hopped the A Train" last season. The latest title is in no way gratuitous, he said. "If you know the play, that's the only thing it could be."
And it does have one benefit: The rating is right there in the title -- in other words, this is a strictly 18-and-older show.
"The people who would be offended, they wouldn't be coming anyway," Mr. Jordan said.
The play fits the mold of barebones' mission, which is to attract new, young audiences by presenting provocative works, providing a visceral experience and "employing minimal production elements for maximum impact."
"We were the first to do a Neil LaBute play ['Bash: Latterday Plays'] in Pittsburgh, and no one did it for like eight years after we did it. Say what you want about him, this guy does three shows a year off and on Broadway," said Mr. Jordan.
That was in 2003, in the beginning, before barebones found a home at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side and was following in the footsteps of Quantum Theatre's found-space concept. The first production was held below the Forward Lanes bowling alley in Squirrel Hill, in the storage space of a vintage clothing shop.
"I put up a curtain, and we put up four practical lights, and there was a stage manager who was backstage with three plugs and a power strip. That was it. We performed in art galleries, we did warehouses, we did terminal buildings, we did Rieder Photography, which is now the Roberto Clemente Museum. There was a winery, so I was in costume and I'd be punching grapes before the show. I still make wine with those guys. Those are the weird places, I guess, but this is our fourth show in residence [at the Hazlett]."
Being at the former home of Pittsburgh Public Theater hasn't changed the type of shows Mr. Jordan chooses to do -- two this season, with "A Steady Rain" next -- it just means he doesn't have to worry about cleaning bathrooms or renting porta-johns, among other perks of the space.
He first heard about "Hat" when there was buzz about newbie Chris Rock being cast opposite theater veterans such as Bobby Canavale and Annabella Sciorra when the play was headed to Broadway.
"I got a script before it was a finished work. I was really into it and it sounded like it was up my alley and I actually saw it in New York just to see if it was, and it was fantastic. It did all the things I want shows to do. The audience was conflicted -- there was like a half standing ovation. People were either fully offended, or it was a rock show. That's the stuff I gravitate toward."
The five-character play introduces Jackie (Mr. Jordan), a former drug dealer who gets out of jail and returns to his addict girlfriend Veronica. Jackie finds a man's hat in Veronica's apartment and realizes she is cheating. He seeks help from his counselor, Ralph, who is at odds with his wife. Then Jackie gets a gun ...
"[The play] surprises me because at its core, it's a love story. I've taken to saying it's about love and other addictions. I've been doing the two hearts, 12 steps, one hat kind of a thing."
The cast includes Edwin Lee Gibson, Leandro Cano, Ruth Gamble and Daina Michelle Griffith, led by first-time barebones director Richard Keitel.
"Hat" is a continuation of the type of material that attracts barebones and actors such as Obie Award winner Gibson to barebones. Tracy Letts' "Killer Joe" and "Bug" are examples of productions that, like Guirgis works, fit the mold that Mr. Jordan has set for his company.
"It's that visceral kind of thing that's the theater that I like to see, and I don't think it gets done enough in Pittsburgh. I'm not saying we're the only ones who do it; it just doesn't get done enough," he said.
Mr. Jordan figures that four to five months of the year are spent planning and preparing and acting in the two barebones plays per season. The company is his first love, and he recently had to turn down acting jobs to make the season work.
"I've shot a couple of commercials, and I was supposed to have a recurring role on [the TV series] 'Those Who Kill' that I already shot a couple of scenes for; hopefully they can figure out a way to bring me back," he said. "The scenes that I shot, they are using the soundstage at the Hazlett where the library used to be. I would go over there and shoot that, then I'd walk over for a production meeting during lunch, dressed as a cop, and then I'd walk back."
He's been seen on stage for many local companies and on screen in TV shows and movies filmed here. In "The Dark Knight Rises," he had a pretty cool death scene as "Special Forces #2."
"The 'Batman' thing especially freaked people out because they flew me all over the country. That was probably a one-shot deal for me," said Mr. Jordan, who has spent some time in New York and L.A. but found there's no place like home. In those entertainment hubs, he said, "If you're one in a million, there are 12 of you." With the recent movie and television boom in Pittsburgh, he's among the go-to actors when there's a casting call.
"I bought a house in Pittsburgh. My family is here, I love it here," he said. "If you offer me a job, I will go to New York or Los Angeles. But until then I make a living here, and I'm really happy here. And it's getting better."