Selected Shorts: Review of BSC’s 10x10 New Play Festival
If you have to have a citywide arts festival in the dead of winter, you absolutely must have good theater somewhere, if not everywhere. And preferably of the kind that doesn’t strain the audience’s understandably frigid attention span. This is a hallmark of 2013’s 10x10 Upstreet Festival in Pittsfield (running until February 24 in venues throughout the city), with so many events crammed into a week that just reading the itinerary requires special magnifying glasses. Considering the large number of participants, few of the individual pieces performed could possibly go on for more than a handful of minutes. Nope, no dramatizations of The Mahabharata on the schedule this time around, folks, and that’s just as it should be.
Barrington Stage Company is the primary instigator for all of this helter-skelter creativity; it’s 10 x 10 New Play Festival, consisting of ten, ten-minute plays by ten playwrights, eight of whom have never been produced at the company, is also its most entertaining cornerstone. The short format of story telling is a nascent form in the culture at large, with radio shows such as “The Moth” and “This American Life” doing to the artful telling of real life experiences that “Selected Shorts” trailblazed with fictional ones years ago. BSC’s New Plays production, playing through March 3 at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, turns out to be a wonderful blending of both sides of this genre; comic or poignant dramatic précis with a contemporary smartness, each of which has a twist that is delightfully evident at first or that unfolds more gradually, ending with a kick that leaves the audience universally murmuring in surprised satisfaction. It hits the spot so many times and in so many different ways that one can feels as if one is receiving a Reiki session.
The best of the evening includes the opening salvo “There’s No Here Here” by Craig Pospisil, a Midnight in Paris-esque mind trip about a writer (Dustin Charles) living what he is writing at a Paris café, with attendant appearances by Gertrude Stein (Peggy Pharr Wilson), a capricious French chick (Emily Taplin Boyd), and an arrogant French waiter (Scott Drummond, the latter two at top), who demands not to be treated as a stereotype. The quickening playfulness of the work transcends the familiar nature of the concept; it’s Woody Allen without the travelogue sentimentality. The following act, “You Haven’t Changed A Bit” by Donna Hoke, involves two elderly people attending their 70th high school reunion; the realization that one makes clear to the other over the piece’s short course of time is performed with such realistic restraint by Matt Neely and Wilson that it has as an impact as quietly haunting as it is touching.
Amelia Roper’s “Camberwell House,” about an older woman (Wilson) recounting how a fellow assisted-living housemate is still planning to put into deadly effect a plot the two hatched when they were much younger, is an engaging monologue that is the most “Short Stories”- like of the entire evening. Two others—James McLindon’s Civil War confrontation “The Wilderness” (with very strong performances by Neely and Drummond) and “Freefalling” by Aurin Squire, about the last minutes of a plane crash, with Shakespeare & Company’s Elizabeth Aspenlieder (in her BSC debut, above right), Charles and Drummond – are intensely dramatic pieces that make a powerful impact in novel ways.
While other works vary in effectiveness, they each manage to leave a little tickle in the end, or provide enough throughout to make one want to go to the next event on the 10x10 list. If only I had my reading glasses handy. —Scott Baldinger