International Falls: Loneliness of the long-distance comic

Thomas and Sherry Jo Ward in International Falls.
Thomas and Sherry Jo Ward in International Falls.
Photo courtesy Bryant Lake Bowl
When Thomas Ward moved to the Twin Cities a year ago, the actor and playwright was looking to make inroads in the local community. Those efforts have led to a production of one of his plays directed by a Lifetime Ivey Award winner.

Jungle founder Bain Boehlke helms International Falls, a piece about a standup comedian having a one-night stand in the titular town. It stars Ward and his wife, Sherry Jo. (The couple moved to the area when she took a job with the Children's Theatre Company.)

"It happened very quickly," Ward says. "I knew we wanted to do a show here. I was basically sending out emails to every artistic director in town. Bain responded, showed us around his theater, and told me about the Jungle."

While chatting, Ward mentioned the show -- which had been presented at a theater festival in Dallas -- and the location connected with Boehlke, a Warroad native. "We read him the play. He loved it. That night, he walked us over to show us the space at the Bryant-Lake Bowl. We were definitely planning on doing the show here, but Bain made it happen faster," Ward says.

The play itself draws from Ward's experiences as a standup comic in the early part of the 2000s. It was an effort for the actor to stay busy, as he toured "little dive bars and hotel bars."

That included a gig in International Falls. "I loved the name. It was a perfect title. The isolation of International Falls in and of itself is just a perfect setting for what a comedian can feel on the road," Ward says.

The play features a mix of standup and conversations between the two characters about the nature of comedy. "I am just a comedy nerd. I love standup and improv. I listen to comedy podcasts all the time. All of that was a real influence on wanting to write the play," Ward says.

"The play is about loneliness and sadness and how that feeds comedy. The cliché is that comedy comes from pain. I wanted to test that out a little bit and explore the idea," Ward says.

The Wards presented their own production of the show last year, and it has also been produced in Portland, but without the couple in the leads. This time, working with Boehlke has helped to solidify their performances.

"He is really calling me on any kind of self indulgence. I wrote it and I'm acting it, so it is very easy for me to slip into having everything be my close up. He is calling b.s. on that. He is doing an amazing job in keeping it as light as possible as long as possible," Ward says.

Ward's wife has also been a major influence. "She reads everything I write. There is one section of standup in the play that she rewrote for me and she made it a hundred times better," he says.


International Falls
Friday through June 9
Bryant-Lake Bowl
810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
For information and tickets, call 612.825.8949 or visit online.

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Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater

810 W. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55408


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