In March of 2008, police in Ness City, Kan., were called to the home of Pam Babcock by her live-in boyfriend, Kory McFarren, who said something was wrong with the 35-year-old woman. Upon arriving, police discovered that Babcock was stuck to the toilet seat. Seems the woman had been sitting there for at least a month, and hadn't left the bathroom for an estimated two years.
It was a story that gave fresh meaning to the old saw, "the truth is stranger than fiction."
But it's also a story that inspired a new bit of fiction that takes the stage at the Crystal Theatre next week, when Montana Actors' Theatre presents the premiere of Alysha Oravetz's "Bird in the House."
Oravetz, a 29-year-old senior in the University of Montana's drama department, said her imagination was fired by the odd newsbyte, as well as her memories of other oddball stories from her childhood growing up among the coal miners and steelworkers of Pennsylvania.
"When I first heard the story of that woman, I thought it was funny but also not funny at all," said Oravetz. "I tried to find out more about the story, but couldn't find much, so it started me thinking about how one would stay in a bathroom that long. From there, scenarios and people started coming to mind, and it grew from there."
What emerged was a tale that Oravetz variously describes as "grotesque" and "funny," "pretty dark" but "full of a sense of magic."
"I wanted to tell a kind of American gothic tale of what people do to survive, and all the things that you just don't see but that are everywhere around us in America right now," said Oravetz.
The play tells the tale of Joe and Regina, a poor couple from the mining town of California, Penn. Regina gives birth to a stillborn baby in the bathroom of her home; she comes to believe that she can control other babies, and other people, as long as she stays in the bathroom.
"Regina's pride is so great that she doesn't leave the bathroom, she stays there with the fetus," explained Oravetz. "Meantime, there's a whole other world on the outside - the people at the bar who are asking what's going on. The story's unfolding with them and with her and how she slowly starts to lose her mind in that space. Her husband gets sucked into it and is manipulated by her, and it goes from there."
Not exactly "Hallmark Hall of Fame" fare. But, said Oravetz, the play isn't all darkness.
"I really tried to make all the characters rounded and bring in elements of humor to the story, so that it's balanced," said Oravetz. "The actors couldn't be better; they just fit the parts and they're so quirky, it really helps bring out the love that they have for each other. They're just the kind of people I wanted in the show."
The production marks the last of the season for Montana Actors' Theatre, the Crystal Theatre co-resident company that recently completed its run of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."