Homegrown Tales

Harry Thomason, the Arkansas-born film and television producer best known as creator of the 1980s sitcom Designing Women, is coming to Eureka Springs to spin a yarn on stage at Brews during the Aug. 7 rendition of “Homegrown Tales.”

Thomason will be featured in a special “Front Porch” edition followed by a book signing of his “Brother Dog: Southern Tales and Hollywood Adventures.” While here, he will be staying at the Evening Shade Inn, owned by Shira and Shawn Fouste.

For those too young to remember, “Evening Shade” is another popular TV sitcom created by Thomason’s wife, Linda Bloodworth Thomason, and set in Evening Shade, Arkansas.

Every other month for the better part of five years, co-producers Zeek Taylor and Sandra Spotts have shared tales of their Arkansas upbringings and have invited others to join them. Both have appeared on National Public Radio’s “Tales from the South,” the model for the local “Tales.”

The evening usually draws a house full of listeners, including some tourists. The stories live in infamy on Facebook through recordings by Keith Parnell of Eureka’s KFresh Productions.

On the night of June 5, Taylor and Spotts were joined by Brews co-operator John Rankine and DZ Rife of Bentonville for four very unique personal stories.

Rankine, co-proprietor of Brews and a former journalist, told a story about landing a starring role in a play in his 20s in his native Canada. The 1982 play was deemed “Brussels Sprouts,” set in Brussels, Belgium.

“It became my first for many things,” Rankine said. “It was my first starring role in a dramatic play, my first time learning and memorizing pages and pages of dialogue, and my first and only time I was naked on stage.”

His character, Ernie, was one of only three in the two-act play, which involved a love triangle among the players. At the time, Rankine said he was openly gay to his friends but still closeted to family and the theater.

“But I don’t think I was fooling anyone,” he added.

Near the end of the play, the plot got spicy, with all characters in various stages of undress. The performance was in an empty upstairs loft that seated 100 people. “This would be considered off, off, off Broadway,” Rankine quipped.

Still, they filled most of the seats for the show’s 10-night run. Closing night was Oct. 31.

“In hindsight, we should have been prepared that something strange might occur that evening,” he added.

During the end of the play, the cast noticed that a large crowd had gathered outside below the loft, patrons spilling into the street from two gay bars notorious for their Halloween antics.

“The event always attracted locals and curious tourists who came out to gawk at the pageantry,” Rankine said.

As the end of the play drew near, they heard a commotion coming from the back. As Rankine stood on stage in his underwear, eight uniformed policemen busted in the back door. From the street outside below, the view of the loft’s windows with stage lighting looked like a big television screen, Rankine said. It would be easy to misconstrue what was going on inside.

“I’m not sure who was stunned the most — me, my castmates, the audience or the cops themselves,” he said. “The play obviously stopped, and I think the cops knew right away this was not the wild orgy they so rambunctiously wanted to bust.”

Rankine said no one had noticed that the press was there, and on that night’s 11 p.m. news was footage of the police storming up the stairs toward the play.

Afterward, there was a call to extend the play, which did not happen, and Rankine considered “Brussels Sprouts” to be the end of his acting career.