A felon is a house-guest of a North Dakota pastor. A musical with an all African-American cast set in a Georgia funeral home. Two strangers hooking up on New Year’s Eve and becoming parents. Such is the diverse dramatic fare presented in one-night only shows over the next three months by the Bare Bones Theatre, founded by Laguna Beach playwright LoJo Simon.
Beginning with Cory Hinkle’s play titled “All the Good in the World,” Simon will once again exercise her forte of directing and taking audiences on a magical tour through the psychological and intellectual depths inherent in human nature.
The play reading takes place at the Sandra Jones Campbell Studio in Laguna Canyon Monday, Sept. 12.
The series also presents “The Good Father” by Christian O’Reilly and the new musical “Final Arrangements” written by local Ken Jillson. With musical direction by Roxanne Ward, the latter will be performed at Laguna Playhouse in October.
As in other Bare Bones productions, a community member with professional experience befitting the nature of the play will field audience questions afterwards. After a performance of Simon’s play “White or The Musk Ox Play,” Andrea Deerheart, Ph.D., founder of The Heart Way, led a discussion about grief. “Musk Ox” made its 2012 debut at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
“All the Good…,” featuring Mark Miller, Deb Conroy, Charlie Pacello and Evie Cant, addresses a pastor doing the right thing regardless of possible consequences when he allows a convicted criminal to live at his house even though he has a wife and teen-aged daughter. Cant, a junior at Laguna Beach High School, is the first teenager participating in Bare Bones, said Simon.
She selected Jeff Tacklind, pastor at the Little Church by the Sea in Laguna Beach, to lead the post performance discussion. “The main character struggles with what God wants him to do and the potential danger in his house,” explained Simon. “We encourage people to stay and talk about those difficult but universal issues.”
For Tacklind, this is a first. “I am excited to participate. For myself as a pastor, this play will stir up things close to home and as a fan of Mark, whom I know as an executive at the Friendship Shelter as well. My heart is in supporting his artistic side,” he said.
“The Good Father,” set for Monday, Nov. 14 and directed by Miller, centers on a couple that, after casual sex, unexpectedly become parents and the changes their lives undergo thereafter. O’Reilly also authored “Chapatti,” a play to be performed at the Playhouse this fall.
Jillson will debut his newest endeavor, “Final Arrangements: The New To-Die For Musical,” for which he wrote the book, coached by Simon. Michele Spears directs. “We were meeting regularly for a year where as a dramaturg I helped him develop the characters,” said Simon. Jillson draws on his own experience working in a funeral home as a teenager. “Growing up in L.A., I was mystified by funeral homes,” he said.
Set in Savannah, Ga., the story revolves around Rita Mae Williams, a go-getter who died too soon, but whose message to live for the moment lives on.
“It’s light-hearted, showing Ken’s love for life. Funerals are hard to talk about; people are frightened. But here we have gospel, Motown and a love story,” said Simon.
The performance is free, but RSVPs to [email protected] are required.
Jillson and Simon met when she was writing a story about Big Splash, the entertainment extravaganzas he and his partner Al Roberts staged to benefit the AIDS Services Foundation of Orange County.
“I am over the moon with the piece coming to life through Bare Bones,” said Jillson. “Lauren would ask questions and push for the very best work we could do,” he said.
Simon said that the Playhouse, where she serves as a communications consultant, is acquiring new skills, making mini-films about theater artists.
She cites as her mentor artistic director Anne E. Wareham, who is staging some contemporary shows shows such as “Billy and Ray” and “Chapatti.”
“Bare Bones is helping to develop new audiences for the Playhouse; they are supporting me,” Simon said. “They do productions that I can’t do and I can put on productions that they can’t. The community benefits,” she said. Jillson, for example, is renting the Playhouse for the performance of “Final Arrangements…” since the Jones Campbell venue is too small for a cast of 10.
At Bare Bone’s inception, Wareham praised Simon’s knack for finding material that speaks to people. “I am also interested in the dialogue she brings into a room. That is what is interesting about her reading series, an opportunity to have conversations about a play’s subject matter brings it all full circle,” she said.
Simon’s play “Love All” made it into full production at this year’s OC-centric New Play Festival. The play centers on a father living strictly in the moment while his son is trying to dissect his family’s history. The father is a devotee of “Inner Tennis” the series of books by Timothy Gallwey, hence the title, but he also hides a secret from his family, she explained.
Eric Eberwein, OC-Centric’s associate artistic director as well as director of the Orange County Playwrights Alliance, saw Simon’s play “One Foot,” produced by Bare Bones, and praised it as a superbly assured presentation of a new play.
“LoJo is a fantastically gifted playwright. Her plays, such as ‘Love All’ are very nuanced, psychologically complex and very rich emotionally and intellectually,” he said.
“All the Good in the World,” Monday, Sept. 12; “The Good Father,” Monday, Nov. 14; both 7:30 p.m., Sandra Jones Campbell Studio, 2173 Laguna Canyon Rd. Tickets: $20/25.
“Final Arrangements,” Monday, Oct. 10, 7 p.m. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd.
RSVP to [email protected]