Trying to Fall Out of Love in a Laundromat: Playwright Bob Bartlett on ‘The Accident Bear’

With its title, The Accident Bear, and its performance location, a laundromat in Annapolis, I was most intrigued to learn more about local playwright Bob Bartlett’s new work.

The production of The Accident Bear is directed by Jay Brock, with a cast of Paul Diem (Bear), Rachel Manteuffel (Chance), and Louis Davis (Buddy).

The cast of The Accident Bear: Rachel Manteuffel (Chance), Paul Diem (Bear) and Louis Davis (Buddy). Photo courtesy of Bob Bartlett.
The cast of The Accident Bear: Rachel Manteuffel (Chance), Paul Diem (Bear) and Louis Davis (Buddy). Photo courtesy of Bob Bartlett.

So, who better than Bob Bartlett to answer some questions about The Accident Bear?

David Siegel: How would you describe The Accident Bear?

Bob Bartlett: The play is about a guy who is trying to end what he believes to be an unhealthy relationship with a woman he never expected to meet, let alone fall in love with. The relationship is causing Bear more than the usual types of emotional pain, which he comically blames for his monthly accidents. He believes he needs to end the relationship for his physical well-being, so he uses the memory of an event to alter the future – the night they met and fell in love: “If you walk out that door, right now. It’s gonna save me, us, years of heartache, misery, and therapy, mostly but not exclusively of the physical variety.” There’s a lyricism to the language of the play that I love, and a way that Bear approaches memory that’s kind of magical or mystical.

What was the impetus to develop The Accident Bear?

Before I bought my house in Davidsonville, MD, I was living in a wonderful, old apartment in Downtown Annapolis – without a washer and dryer – that was within walking distance of plenty of great places to write, including cafes, coffee shops, bookstores, restaurants, bars, and a coin-operated laundromat. I’m a writer who needs to write in a variety of locations and often surrounded by activity and white noise, so while I was doing my weekly laundry, I decided to write a play set in my local laundromat. While I’ve written with specific locations in mind, I’d never written for a location in that location. And because laundromats are rumored to be great pick-up spots, I wrote The Accident Bear, my first attempt at a romantic comedy, albeit a time-shifting and darkish one.

What can audiences expect, including its unique location?

Some of my favorite theatre is staged in black boxes and warehouses and big empty rooms. Audiences should expect to spend 75 minutes in a working laundromat, seated in mismatched chairs near the storefront window. They’ll be quite impressed with our scenic designer. The truth is – we will have changed almost nothing in the space for our performances. We may add a unique magazine or two to the stack of magazines available for patrons, but otherwise – the room is ready for us.

The Laundromat on Maryland Avenue, our home for the four-week run, is absolutely a character in the play, and we’re having fun in rehearsals playing in the space. Our small audiences will be within a few feet of the action of the play; the intimate playing space allows our cast to play smaller than they might on a typical stage. The vintage vending machine located in the laundromat was the first bit of nostalgia to catch my eye, and it plays an important role in the play, as well as the richness of the room. The storefront window looks out on the old brick street and sidewalks, and Galway Bay and City Dock Coffee, two of my regular writing haunts.

What would you like audiences to take away after seeing The Accident Bear?

I’m not sure I’ve written a play like this before. I had a chance to work with director David Drake a few years ago, and he said something I haven’t forgotten: “Audiences want to see people falling in love or trying to fall in love.” So here I’ve written a play about someone who’s trying to fall out of love.

Mostly, I wanted to write an experience. The experience of being on Maryland Avenue at a really beautiful time of the year (and this is the closest to a “date play” that I’ve ever written) where folks can enjoy Annapolis for dinner and a drink before or after the show, and get the chance to peer – almost voyeuristically – inside a character’s memory.

One of your plays had “whale” in its title, Swimming With Whales. Anything you would like to say about your interest in animals for play titles?

Yes, my play Swimming With Whales features a whale, or a whale spirit, if you will, but there are no actual bears in this production, as Bear announces to Buddy, “I’m not really a Bear, and you’re not a bear cub.” But I’m certainly toying with the ways humans take on the attributes of certain animals, or as in Bear’s case, a bear, and in Buddy’s case, a bear cub.

Bob Bartlett. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Bob Bartlett. Photo courtesy of the artist.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a roughly drawn comic created by, I believe, a Maryland artist, called The Accident Bear, about a bear that’s accident prone and causes accidents. I’ve been described as bearish, and I certainly have my share of accidents. I fell off the stage ten years ago and crushed my left ankle and elbow (six surgeries later, the left side of my body is out of whack and imbalanced), and – as I was writing the play – I had a string of fender benders and other mishaps caused by a particularly distracting relationship. Chance tells Bear near the end of The Accident Bear: “Yeah. You look like the kinda guy who’d trip on a crack. Walking around with your head in the clouds. All in love.”

The Accident Bear plays November 30 to December 22, 2018, at The Avenue Laundromat, 74 Maryland Ave, Historic Downtown Annapolis, MD. For tickets, go online.

Note: Seating is extremely limited; only seating 12 per performance. Some performances are already sold out. The play is not particularly suitable for children. DCMTA’s Charles Green reviews The Accident Bear here.