When Amber Ruffin goes to work—in the writers’ room for Late Night With Seth Meyers—she composes jokes about current events and does an onscreen segment called “Amber Says What?” Ruffin also writes for Comedy Central’s Detroiters and often appears on that network’s Drunk History. Her dream career is “crazy and fun,” but it also requires strict discipline to adhere to television’s many constraints.
So, in her free time, the writer and actor went wild. No, not Girls Gone Wild. Rather, “giant, hairy, mythological monster” wild. Ruffin and collaborator Kevin Sciretta wrote a musical comedy about Bigfoot that makes its world premiere at Downtown’s Majestic Repertory Theatre on June 28.
In Ruffin’s mythology, the scary Sasquatch is just a “regular boy with a glandular problem.” As he grows to a gargantuan size, his hometown of Mud Dirt scapegoats him and drives him into the woods. Once fully ostracized, Bigfoot might or might not go on to save the town and find true love. “It’s an all-the-way ridiculous show that is really only after goofy, goofy laughs,” Ruffin says.
Director Troy Heard discovered a deeper layer to the story during rehearsals. “On the surface, it’s a fun summer show. It’s really, really funny, but there’s an emotional truth to it,” Heard says. “There are certain moments where you’re just hit with the reality of the piece and how we can’t just discard our outcasts.”
The musical carries an extra resonance in today’s fractured political climate, where tribalism and xenophobia run rampant. “One of the key lines in the play is, ‘Let’s kill what we don’t understand,’” Heard says.
Ruffin didn’t set out to write a modern-day allegory, but she says, “It quickly became very clear that was where we were headed.” She jokes about how she thought she was turning off her “work brain” for this project. But surely, the comic who garnered headlines for calling out Roseanne Barr as racist (nearly two weeks before the show’s cancellation), feels the beat of the nation’s pulse.
Speaking of beats: “I am really proud of the music,” Ruffin says. “It’s just the cutest, funkiest groove. Each song feels like an old ’70s song you know but don’t quite remember.” Ruffin wrote the lyrics and tapped fellow Boom Chicago alum David Schmoll to write the music. The result is a Motown-styled soundtrack with songs titled “Splash Town,” “Down the Tubes” and “Mommy.” The 11-member cast all sing and dance to the tracked music, which Heard describes as “very ‘Super Sounds of the ’70s.’”
According to Heard, the theater’s goal is to educate, entertain and enlighten. “You’re definitely entertained by this,” Heard says. “It’s a show where the enlightenment part is going to catch you by surprise.”
BIGFOOT June 28-July 15, various times, $15-$25. Majestic Repertory Theatre, 702-423-6366.