10 plays, 10 minutes each, equals an entertaining evening of theater at Barrington Stage Company

10X10 On North New Play Festival

A Barrington Stage Company production of ten new plays

BSC Stage 2, Feb 16-26, Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm; Sat/Sun at 3pm

Plays by Suzanne Bradbeer, Sara Cooper, Laura Shaine Cunningham, Will Eno, Jacqueline Goldfinger, Mikhail Horowitz, Maureen McGranaghan, Chris Newbound, Marisa Smith, Cait Weisensee

Directed by Julianne Boyd, Tom Gladwell, Frank La Frazia, David Sernick, Mark St. Germain

Cast: Lily Balsen, Emily Taplin Boyd, Matt Neely, RylandThomas, Peggy Pharr Wilson, Robert Zukerman

Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck

Barrington Stage Company’s 10×10 New Play Festival, part of 10×10 On North, the Berkshires’ first-ever winter contemporary arts festival, is a delightful diversion for a winter’s evening: the lineup of ten short plays, all approximately ten minutes long, makes for a lively and entertaining night of theater. The six actors are not only skilled but extremely versatile, delivering solid performances in a remarkably varied assortment of plays, from laugh-out-loud humor to budding romance to poignant drama, and even one or two plays that almost defy classification. These short plays prove that ten minutes is more than enough time to fall in love, change a life, be a hero, or just share important moments.

The ten plays included in the festival are particularly well-chosen. Another Cup of Coffee by Cait Weisensee depicts a husband’s patient, loving care of his wife, who suffers from some form of dementia, with gentle humor and poignant sadness. Robert Zukerman and Peggy Pharr Wilson are pitch-perfect as the challenged couple, skillfully directed by David Sernick. The Story by Mikhail Horowitz is a clever exercise in absurdist dialogue, as two men in a cave debate storytelling technique. Matt Neely offers a sly wit, countered by Robert Zukerman’s curmudgeonly demeanor, under the deft direction of Mark St. Germain.  

Mark St. Germain also directed Peggy Pharr Wilson’s strong performance in Lannie’s Lament by Jacqueline Goldfinger, a Southern Gothic tale about a funeral that takes a surprising turn. Wilson transports the audience to a sun-drenched porch somewhere in the deep South with her first few words. Behold the Coach, In a Blazer, Uninsured by Pulitzer Prize finalist Will Eno, is also a monologue, this time a quirky recounting of a failed season by an embattled sports coach, ably portrayed by Matt Neely, also directed by Mark St. Germain.

The line-up includes romance, of a sort. In Tenderness by Maureen McGranaghan, Emily Taplin Boyd offers an appealing depiction of a young woman confronting a modern dilemma: she awakes in the night to find her one-night-stand sneaking away. Ryland Thomas is the feckless man in the scenario directed by Tom Gladwell. In Chris Newbound’s Lunch with Amanda, Frank La Frazia directs Lily Balsen and Ryland Thomas as gently flirtatious, bantering co-workers discussing the aftermath of a company softball game in a nuanced, naturalistic conversation. La Frazia also directs God in the Goat by Suzanne Bradbeer, featuring Matt Neely as an unscrupulous but surprisingly thoughtful member of the paparazzi, staking out a rock star’s funeral , and Lily Balsen in a quiet but powerful turn as a woman who once knew the celebrity.

Tom Gladwell is at the helm for Total Expression by Marisa Smith, a funny piece that features Emily Taplin Boyd in a spot-on depiction of a Russian model looking for fame and fortune in New York, with Peggy Pharr Wilson as the unlikely recipient of some adventurous advice.

Julianne Boyd directs two of the funniest offerings of the evening, the first being Things I Left on Long Island by Sara Cooper. Lily Balsen plays a young woman who has had to move back home and contend with the dreaded dysfunctional family dynamic: Peggy Pharr Wilson is her overbearing, over-the-top mother; Ryland Thomas is the perfect younger brother; and Robert Zukerman is absolutely hilarious in drag as the very outspoken grandmother. And in Laura Shaine’s Fugu, two highly competitive “foody” couples, played by Matt Neely, Lily Balsen, Emily Taplin Boyd, and Ryland Thomas, gather for a daring gourmet dinner with a very exotic ingredient as the centerpiece.

The 10×10 New Play Festival is a successful and very entertaining format: while some of the plays are more polished than others, the compelling performances from this very skilled, chameleon-like company of actors make for a very satisfying evening indeed. This reviewer is already looking forward to next year’s roster of ten new plays.

Production team: Natasha Sinha, associate producer; Jeff Roudabush, lighting designer; Andy Reynolds, sound designer; and Michael Andrew Rodgers, production stage manager.

Barrington Stage Company’s Stage 2 is at 36 Linden St. in Pittsfield. Tickets are $15 and $20; to purchase tickets or for more information, call the Barrington Stage box office at 413.236.8888 or visit www.barringtonstageco.org. Barrington Stage Company’s box office is located at 30 Union St. in Pittsfield.

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