If you’re writing a play about betrayal and festering secrets, don’t you naturally think first of your closest companions?
So Charlotte’s Tonya Bludsworth, author of “Least Likely Friends,” surrounded herself with her most likely supporters while bringing the play to Theatre Charlotte this week.
Producers Donna Scott and Chuck Bludsworth are 1) a close pal and 2) a spouse. (The three co-produced the 2010 film “Aphasia.”) The cast has Scott, Chandler McIntyre (who was in “Aphasia”) and Paige Johnston Thomas, who hired Bludsworth as a casting director at C & J Casting.
So everyone involved is family, except for the audience. Bludsworth aims to make friends of them, too: She cut the intermission, trimmed the drama to 90 minutes, kept a darker edge and avoided any implausible happy ending.
But she might never have written “Friends” if she hadn’t been in a play three years ago that did none of those things.
Scott produces local shows with multiple female characters, such as “The Body Chronicles” and “The Fairy Tale Chronicles.” When she did “Dixie Swim Club,” a 2010 comedy about women meeting over 33 years at a beach house, she and McIntyre and Bludsworth took three of the roles.
“I thought, ‘I could write dialogue like this and make it honest,’ ” Bludsworth recalls. “So I spent a year and a half working on ‘Least Likely Friends.’ ”
It was a long time coming after “Carrie Ann’s Kiss,” her 2006 debut set in the world of competitive beauty consultants. (That play starred McIntyre, Scott, Bludsworth and Darlene Parker, who had to drop out of “Friends” and was replaced by Iesha Hoffman. This is one tight-knit bunch.)
“ ‘Carrie Ann’ came out of those discussions where actors sit around saying, ‘If we want something good, we have to write it ourselves,’ ” Bludsworth says. “I did it as a screenplay, but it was too expensive to shoot, so it became a play.”
She put down the dramatic pen for five years, until “Dixie” got the writing juices flowing. Scott wangled a small Blumenthal Foundation Fellowship that paid for a retreat to Wildacres in the North Carolina mountains; there Bludsworth finished the first draft, with Scott reading roles aloud so the author heard how they sounded.
Table reads with Charlotte actors refined the play, and an Arts & Science Council grant paid for part of the production. Bludsworth decided to direct and offered the event to Ron Law, who runs Theatre Charlotte and had taken “Carrie Ann” in 2006.
Scott describes the division of producing labor as a good fit. She does marketing and PR; Chuck Bludsworth deals with money and “the un-fun things.
“It’s a good blend of the movie and theater worlds: Set designer Whitney Yale and costumer Lucy Wilson come from movies, Tonya and I come more from the theater.” (Though Bludsworth did have a role in the Jason Sudeikis-Jennifer Aniston comedy “We’re the Millers,” as a soccer mom buying pot from Sudeikis. She doesn’t know yet if she’s on a cutting-room floor.)
Naturally, Bludsworth used Scott as her sounding board. But to keep non-female ticket-buyers friendly, she also consulted the other producer.
“Because it’s a piece for four women, I brought Chuck in to give his opinions,” she says. “I didn’t want men to sit in the audience and say, ‘Aaaarrrgh.’ ”
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