The 10x10 Plays, 2018; by Eugenie Carabatsos, Steven Korbar, Eric Wade Fritzius, Cathy Tempelsman, Brad Systma, James McLindon, Tom Coash, Jamie Roach, Christine Foster, Patrick Gabridge. Directed by Julianne Boyd and Matthew Penn. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Keri Safran, Lucky Gretzinger, Dina Thomas, Peggy Pharr Wilson, Matt Neely, Robert Zukerman; photo: Scott Barrow
". . .the sneaking of snacks."
Matt Neely, Keri Safran in "Fargo 3D"; photo: Scott Barrow
The ten minute play is an art-form all its own. In just a few minutes we meet characters, get to know them, watch them realize an important moment, then we lose them forever. In Barrington Stage Company's annual 10 plays by 10 authors festival in February we get to know some wonderful actors, characters, and playwrights. This year, their 7th, we get to know some writers with delicious senses of humor and some characters we will never forget. With one week rehearsal the six interpretors bring us excellence and laughter and a tear or two along the way. In the past I have praised Peggy Pharr Wilson for her fabulous ability to bring different characters to vivid life one after the other, an art that hasn't always been shared by her fellows, but this year she has stiff competition in this department and that makes the evening so much more delightful.
She is joined by Matt Neely who exceeds himself in this crop of plays, Robert Zukerman who can command the stage brilliantly, Lucky Gretzinger whose name is not there to fool you - he makes each role pay like a roulette wheel on command, Keri Safran who does perturbed better than most actresses might and Dina Thomas who understands the humor in every line and makes it sound exactly right, and exactly thought up at that very moment.
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eugenie Carabatsos opens the first half with Thomas and Gretzinger stuck together in a closet at a party. Their enforced romantic moment is awkward for them, but Martin and Fredi learn, just a moment too late, how much they like one another. It's a fine opener for the set.
It is followed by Old Aquatics by Steven Korbar, a play about the oddness of New Year's Eve, too much liquor and personal humiliation. Neely plays an Uber driver and Thomas (after a very quick change) is the woman he needs to drive home. Half of the fun in this one is the language of drunkeness and the other half is deeper and more resonant. Both actors deliver nicely in this play about the challenges of the night.
Fargo 3D by Eric Wade Fritzius could have been written in Pittsfield on any day in the week at the Beacon Theatre under its first management. Neely and Safran are movie patrons who undergo a rigid examination when they refuse to purchase snacks and drinks before entering. Pharr Wilson plays the uniformed agent who prepares to practically strip-search them and Gretzinger is the manager who encourages her to go for it. All three of these first plays were directed by Matthew Penn.
Robert Zukerman, Peggy Pharr Wilson in "Kamasutra"; photo: Scott Barrow
Lucky Gretzinger, Dina Thomas in "Perspective"; photo: Scott Barrow
Julianne Boyd takes the directorial reins for the next two plays. Run-On Sentence by Cathy Tempelsman is the darkest of the plays and Zukerman and Safran perform senstively in a play where telling jokes is the best way to mask the real sensations felt by the two characters. Safran is lovely, restrained and reassuring while Zukerman plays the distance needed to maintain a personal stronghold on reality.
The Fly by Brad Systma allows both Neely and Boyd to shine in a lengthy mime piece about a man in a park eating lunch and reading porn. Without a word spoken, this play gives the actor everything he needs to paint a fine portrait of a man outwitted by a speck of an insect. To call this a laugh-riot is to remove its underbelly. It is more than that; it is a portrait in motion.
The second half of the presentation opens with Gretzinger and Thomas as Archangel Gabriel and The Virgin Mary in a most familiar art-setting in James McLindon's play "Perspective." Without a doubt this is the funniest card in the deck. As these two famous figures chat, bicker and fuss over their position in a gallery the whole concept of art and its value in the world comes into play, bringing up the recent issues at the Berkshire Museum in a totally different way. Boyd has a ball with this one as does the costume coordinator Jessica Sovronsky.
Kamasutra by Tom Coash takes us to India where Wilson and Zukerman discover the deeper problems in their marriage may just be a lack of physical connection and that holding hands may be the perfect solution they've overlooked. Penn does a beautiful job with his piece, keeping his actors fairly stationery as things heat up.
Jame Roach's play The Secret to a Healthy Relationship, also directed by Penn, gives Safran and Neely an opportunity to shine as a one-year anniversary leads to unanticipated consequences. Both actors are wonderful, but Safran has the chops to make every line into a piece of pathos-inflected ethos. Penn again directs his actors with care and keeps the reactions in check.
Boyd directs the final two plays. Christine Foster's Joy Ride showcases the wonderful pairing of Wilson and Thomas as a mother and daughter taking off in a plane to deal with the ashes of a loved one. A clever piece with some wonderful physicality by both women it has an ending that, while not a surprise, satisfies.
The evening ends with Beatrix Potter Must Die! by Patrick Gabridge. Safran and Zukerman play the familiar figures in an unfamiliar moment and while the play is not the strongest of the group, it does signify the closure that an evening of short pieces requires.
Sound design by Alexander Sovronsky is superb and Will Deleguardia's set is just right for each piece. Eric Andrew Mitchell has lit the ten plays perfectly. In the middle of winter Barrington Stage has once again heated things up for theater audiences that have come to depend on this opportunity to greet the new and get their appetites whetted for the season to come. This show only runs a few weeks, so get your tickets soon.
Matt Neely in "The Fly"; photo: Scott Barrow
10x10 only plays through March 4 on the St. Germain Stage in the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center at 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield, MA. For information and tickets go to their website at barringtonstageco.org or call the box office at 413-236-8888.