By Mark G. Auerbach
Barrington Stage’s signature off-season winter event, The 10 x 10 New Play Festival made a seamless transition from stage to small screen this season, as it celebrates its 10th anniversary. The festival, comprised of 10 short plays (10 minutes each in length) with six actors, all alums of previous 10 x 10 New Play Festivals at Barrington Stage, run the gamut from comedy to drama, which highlight the versatility of the playwrights, the actors, and directors Julianne Boyd and Matthew Penn.
During the pandemic theatre season, as it has evolved, we’ve been treated to plays written for streaming, plays attempting to navigate ZOOM, and plays filmed for streaming. Barrington Stage, paying sharp attention to COVID protocol and the rules and regulations imposed by Actor’s Equity, as explained by Julianne Boyd in a curtain speech, and then “performed” by the ensemble, define the parameters. Filmed meticulously for the screen from Barrington Stage’s Boyd Quinson mainstage by Cody Williams, this 10 x 10 is immensely satisfying. And, because the usually sold out run required a trip to Pittsfield, this version is available to anyone. I suspect Barrington Stage will acquire a new fan base from far afield.
I found all of the playlets satisfying on their own terms, but several stuck out in my mind. Mari O’Neill Butler’s “Finding Help,” staged by Julianne Boyd, had a poignancy to it, where a well-intentioned daughter hires homecare for her once independent mother who can no longer take care of herself. Ellen Abrams’ comically dark “Lizzie Borden Gets Engaged,” also staged by Boyd, was a deliciously dark version of a Fall River-based “Bachelorette.” I very much liked the energy of Scott Mullen’s “People Will Talk,” staged by Matthew Penn, where two people sitting on the ledge of a tall building contemplate death, to be fascinating.
Boyd and Penn make each playlet a complete play with deft staging, and all of the production elements are fine. Alexander Sovronsky’s well-conceived sound design binds the very different playlets together. Azalea Fairley has pulled together a variety of interesting costumes, and Scott Pinkney’s lighting design works well on Joseph Martin’s flexible unit set.
Six actors negotiate 29 different roles in this 10 x 10 New Play Festival. They’re all superb. Maya Loren Jackson was terrific as a call-girl purchased by a woman as a birthday gift for her husband. Peggy Pharr Wilson shined as a woman on the edge on a ledge in her final moments. Keri Safran was deliciously melodramatic as Lizzie Borden. Robert Zuckerman was hilarious as a cupid with bad aim. Doug Harris stood out in a speed play interaction, and Matt Neely took center stage as an angel of death disguised as a loud frat boy.
Barrington Stage Company has nurtured so many new works, from the well-thought out revival of On The Town to the stunning American Son. The 10 x 10 New Play Festival has showcased such a variety of small comedies and dramas with large satisfaction. I’m so glad that despite the challenges of these difficult times, Barrington Stage brought this satisfying evening of theatre to so many. Kudos to the thought that went into making this happen.
Barrington Stage Company presents the 2021 10 x 10 New Play Festival. Plays by: Ellen Abrams, Brent Askari, Marj O’Neill Butler, Jonathan Cook, Alex Dremann, Christine Foster, John Minigan, Scott Mullen, Jessica Provenz, and Walter Thinnes. Directed by Julianne Boyd and Matthew Penn. Scenic design by Joseph Martin. Costume design by Azalea Fairley. Lighting design by Scott Pinkney. Sound design by Alexander Sovronsky. Cast: Doug Harris, Maya Loren Jackson, Matt Neely, Keri Safran, Peggy Pharr Wilson, and Robert Zuckerman. Produced for video by Cody Williams. Streaming through March 21. For tickets: www.barringtonstageco.org.
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and The Yale School of Drama. He has worked for arts organizations nationwide, and reported on the arts for print and broadcast. Mark produces and hosts ArtsBeat and On The Mark for WCPC15 and 89.5fm/WSKB, and he’s a regular contributor to Pioneer Valley Radio.