STUFF goes 2 for 2 with Tennessean

... STUFF is humane, intimate, theatrically intriguing and emotionally powerful. Reyland has a talent for writing believable but theatrically appropriate heightened dialogue.

December 13, 2008

Polished 'STUFF' shines more now at Writer's Stage

By Evans Donnell


What do we do in the name of friendship? That question is explored with dramatic clarity and emotional force in the Writer's Stage premiere of STUFF.

Jim Reyland's drama about two longtime buddies reviewing their lives while clearing a warehouse was workshopped by b. scott productions in 1999 at Belcourt Theatre. Since then Reyland, Barry Scott and Matthew Carlton have worked to polish the piece further, and the result is a play that lives up to the promise it showed nearly 10 years ago.

Gone is a third character - a businessman played then by Ed Haggard - who wasn't necessary to the onstage action. And the story feels more focused now as the two men at its center sort through their often searing psychological baggage while removing clutter from a Nashville warehouse.

Bobby Warren (Scott) likes to view himself as the protector of Milton Stack (Carlton). The two met in the Army years before, and Stack suffers from the effects of a head injury he sustained then.

Both Southerners have known prejudice: Warren is black and Stack is gay. Confronting their feelings about that and other matters in their past leads to revelations and recriminations. Is it possible that process will lead to forgiveness?

Reyland is highly regarded for his writing. He's received critical acclaim for his play Shelter, which was produced in 2006 by the American Negro Playwright Theatre, and the 21 Baker Road musical he developed with Addison Gore, which was given a concert performance in March. The Reyland work Further Than We've Ever Been that Writers Stage mounts next year has garnered praise from representatives of nationally prominent theaters including New York City's The Public Theater and Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage.

Reaches to audience

This play adds to that well-deserved reputation. Reyland has a talent for writing believable but theatrically appropriate heightened dialogue.

Through his writing and staging as the show's director, it's also clear he understands that STUFF will work only if audiences are allowed to accept and embrace its characters without feeling they've been manipulated into doing so.

Scott's powerful voice and presence are put to good use here, but it's the subtleties of his performance that mark it as memorably good. His Warren is a man whose rage often bubbles to the surface, and it's terrifically terrifying to watch.

But there's real compassion mixed with anguish and guilt that Scott conveys through every part of his being. Warren's struggle with his demons is fascinating and emotionally engaging.

Carlton has long been masterful in creating characters whose vulnerability touches audiences profoundly, and his Stack is no exception. His character wants to focus on what's good but he can't help remembering the bad, his damaged brain picking up long-discarded pieces of memory that feel like shards of broken glass.

Stack has anger too, but it comes out in different ways than Warren's bluster and bombast - bursts of frustration at what he could have been instead of what he is. Carlton makes the damaged Stack a moving testament to perseverance.

Writer's Stage has done a wonderful job converting a former accounting office into a theater space. Mark Collino deserves praise for his cluttered yet coherent set design and story structure-supportive lighting.

STUFF is humane, intimate, theatrically intriguing and emotionally powerful. That makes its exploration of friendship good drama.

Additional Facts


What: STUFF, a premiere featuring Barry Scott and Matthew Carlton, written by Jim Reyland
Where: 1008 Charlotte Ave.
When: Through Dec. 20. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. this Sunday.
Note: This show contains profanity and mature subject matter.
Tickets: $18, $15 for the Sunday matinee. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Campus for Human Development, which provides services for the homeless.
Contact: or 636-9177