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Posted April 9, 2011

When you're putting on a play, it doesn't hurt to have words written by a true crafts person. That's certainly true of two local productions that open next week in Kingston.

Margaret Atwood may not be a playwright, but anyone who has read her novels and poems knows how much she understands language. Her short book Good Bones is the subject of Theatre Kingston's one-woman show of the same name, starring artistic director Kim Renders. And Kingstown Players are presenting True West by Sam Shepard, who long before he became a movie star in the 1980s was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.

Other than that, the two pieces couldn't be more dissimilar.

The play Good Bones was originally created by Toronto actor Clare Coulter with the help of the late Urjo Kareda, then artistic director of Tarragon Theatre. Coulter performed the work here at the Baby Grand in 2000. Even though Renders is a friend of Coulter's, she wasn't familiar with it.

"We had scheduled a show and the person involved couldn't complete the project," says Renders. "So I had an open spot and a budget for a one-person show. I was old pals with Clare and I knew she had done a lot of one-woman shows so I looked through what she had done. And when I saw Good Bones, I thought it would be the right show to bring to our company."

Last year, Renders had performed the one-woman show The Year of Magical Thinking, also based on a book and had worked with director Anne Hardcastle. "And I only wanted to do this show if Anne was directing again," says Renders. "She has a different sense of musicality of language than I do. The meeting place of our two points of view is very exciting. Plus Anne has a great sense of theatre."

Good Bones is a collection of 19 short pieces in which Atwood showcases her many talents as a writer.

"There are prophetic pieces in there as well as a lot that are nostalgic, so there's a past and a future there," says Renders. "Some you can recognize as stories but others are dreamlike. I can hear her voice in all of them.

"I'm a melancholy person so I tended to like the nostalgic pieces. A lot of them had to do with nature, and I've spent a lot of time camping and at isolated cottages, which is what these pieces are about."

True West is about another kind of isolation, that between two brothers. First produced in 1980, and one of Shepard's most celebrated plays, it's about brothers Austin and Lee.

Austin is a successful screenwriter who's house-sitting his mother's home and about to meet a producer to whom he hopes to sell his latest script. Out of nowhere his estranged brother, Lee, appears. "He's an alcoholic and a thief," says director Michael Catlin. "But he goes golfing with the producer and manages to convince him that his idea for a script is better than Austin's."

Catlin says Shepard wrote the play to investigate the duality of human nature. "There's a bit of a role reversal that goes on and his point is that everyone has good and bad in him," says Catlin. "I really like a playwright who uses dialogue to bring out a character. I'm less enticed by a writer who uses a big monologue to do so, but to bring it out in a conversation, that's really good."

Starring in the play are Sean Byrne as Austin and Glen Piper as Lee. Kevin Fox plays the agent and Antoinette MacDonald, the brothers' mother, who appears in the last scene.

There are scenes of violence in the play, and at first Catlin was surprised to see at it called a comedy at the back of the script.

"The more we got into it the more we could see that it really was a mix of violence and humour," he says.

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What: Two local productions go on the boards next week. Theatre Kingston presents Good Bones, based on works by Margaret Atwood. Kingstown Players are staging Sam Shepard's True West.

Where: Good Bones is being presented at the Baby Grand and True West at the Time to Laugh Comedy Club, 394 Princess St.

When: Good Bones runs from Wednesday, April 13 to Saturday, April 30 with performances from Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. True West runs from Wednesday, April 13 to Saturday, April 23 with performances at 8 p.m.

Tickets: For Good Bones, $27.12 for adults and $19.20 for students except on Sundays, which are half price. For True West, $20 for adults and $17 for students and seniors. Tickets for both are available at the Grand Theatre.

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