The kids gone and no longer caught up in the hurly-burly of child rearing, empty-nesters Norman and Ruth come to an eye-opening realization: they have no idea what they’re relationship is all about. Acting on the advice of discount marriage counsellor that they revisit a spot where they remember being in love, the middle-aged couple heads for a campground they used to visit when the kids were young. So, late one night with a borrowed tent trailer in tow, they end up at the Bear Bones Campground, the scene of better days past. Trouble is, just as they’ve changed so too has the vacation spot: they wake up the next morning to find the place is now the Bare Bones Alternative Campground. To make matters worse, the trailer hitch is broken, so they can’t just up and leave.
It’s not really the right tonic for such a conservative couple. Or is it?
Well, it certainly doesn’t start out that way, which provides plenty of laughs in the Elmira Theatre Company’s presentation of Bare Bear Bones.
Written by Elmira playwright Mike Grant, the story uses the comedic setting as backdrop for a lighthearted exploration of marriage and the relationships between men and women.
“It started as a fish-out-of-water story, but it had to have more. It tells the importance of communication in a relationship,” said Grant. “The campground became a metaphor for the stripping down – the bare bones – of the relationship.”
He had plenty of fodder when penning the story, drawn from years of observing how couples interact. The relationship he created for Norman and Ruth has much in common with what he saw in his parents, and in his own marriage.
“This is exactly what my wife and I sound like when we’re arguing,” he laughed.
Being stuck in an uncomfortable environment, Norman (Brian Otto) and Ruth (Kathy Fahey) are forced to communicate for the first time in years, getting past the banter and joking to have a real heart-to-heart discussion.
But first they have to contend with being surrounded by a whole pile of people walking around wearing nothing but smiles. It’s a setting that’s a challenge not only for our uptight pair, but for those staging the play, as they had to create the illusion of a nudist resort. Campground denizens are always seen behind a hedge, a clothesline or a well-placed prop.
“It they’re expecting the Full Monty, they’re not going to get it,” laughed director Deb Deckert of audience expectations – this is the Elmira Theatre Company, after all. “We’ve had to do some creative blocking.”
She has high praise for the set designers and builders, led by Phil Dietrich, who’ve managed to recreate a campground setting to an appropriate scale for the ETC stage.
“He really does a wonderful job – all part of the magic we call theatre.”
Involving both camping and relationships, the play probably touches on two subjects familiar to most of us.
The second act of the play involves a considerable amount of time around the campfire, which provides a recognizable scenario for anyone who’s ever enjoyed the great outdoors. “Which is pretty much all of us who’ve enjoyed the Canadian institution of camping,” said Deckert.
And, as Grant noted, you don’t have to go far to see how married couples behave. The story contains plenty of slice-of-life moments sure to draw laughs and looks of recollection.
“Anyone who’s been married for any length of time will recognize this situation,” said Deckert.
The Elmira Theatre Company production of Bare Bear Bones runs Feb. 10-12, Feb. 16-19 at 76 Howard Ave. Show times are 8 p.m., except Sunday (2:30 p.m.). Tickets are $18, available from ETC (www.elmiratheatre.com or 519-669-3230) or through the Centre in the Square box office in Kitchener by calling 578-1570 or 1-800-265-8977, online at www.centre-square.com. There will also be special sweetheart supper and show on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, with dinner provided by Flow Café and Catering. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., buffet dinner at 7 p.m., with the show to follow. Those tickets are $58 per person.