10x10 Upstreet, 5th Annual New Play Festival,with plays by Emily Taplin Boyd, Tom Coash, Andrew Dolan, Steven Korbar, Ana Nogueira, Sean Harris Oliver, Ann Marie Shea, Scott C. Sickles, Joseph Samuel Wright, Kelly Younger. Directed by Julianne Boyd and John Miller-Stephany.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Madison Micucci, Andrew May, Peggy Pharr Wilson, Jake Keefe; photo: supplied
"If all time is eternally present / all time is unredeemable."
Matt Neely and Andrew May; photo: supplied
For the fifth year Barrington Stage Company is attacking winter with a collection of short plays by authors you have never heard of before. Company Director Julianna Boyd and John Miller-Stephany have each chosen five of the ten plays to present. Both halves of the show open with works Boyd chose to direct and they are, without doubt, the best of the ten plays.
Steven Korbar's When Babies Fly is a comic delight in which time, literally, flies by. Susan and Sean are seat-mates on a red-eye flight to London and both are equally disturbed by a crying child in a row behind them. The newness of their relationship provides a heightened awareness of one another's qualities. Boyd has directed this piece with exquisite comic timing allowning Jake Keefe and Kelly Rae O'Donnell ample opportunities in their very restricted situation to interact on a broad spectrum of emotional and physical levels. The serio-comic tone of this play sets the barre high for the show and it is sweetly matched by the second play in the series.
Matt Neely as Collin and Andrew May as Barney forge a new link in an old relationship in Scott C. Sickles Turtles and Bulldogs, the second good play in the group. A lost friendship is revived after 35 years during a rainstorm in a cemetery and the fears of high school become the strengths of middle age through a gesture made in good faith and hope. Beautifully staged by Miller-Stephany and charmingly enacted by Neely and May, the sense of a wonderful evening continues in this piece.
Luckily, the third play is equally adorable. Kelly Younger's Best Lei'd Plans presents O'Donnell and Peggy Pharr Wilson as new joined mothers-in-law discussing the possibilities for their children at their Hawaiian Beach wedding. Again, Miller-Stephany does a fine job of wringing the comedy from the drama and the two women are superbly silly.
The show crashes to the ground in Thin Air by Tom Coash. This monologue delivered by Madison Micucci is - or at least felt like - the longest ten minutes in the history of performance.
Boyd has a difficult time bringing the show back on track with Andrew Dolan's '04: A Muse of Fire in which May and Neely have to confer with baseball imagery and rivalries. This is an uneven piece with fine moments, but less of them than the play needs.
Peggy Pharr Wilson opens the second half with a monodrama by Emily Taplin Boyd, The Still Point of The Turning World, directed by her mother. This is the stand-out moment of the collection, the story of a librarian who sacrifices too much for a few books she understands to be of uncommon value. Beautifully written and directed the actress barely moves for her solo, holding our attention and tugging at our minds and hearts and guts as she tells her story of extraordinary valor and love during world war II.
The two-scene play Dr. Kessler written by Ana Nogueira is perhaps the most trite offering of the collection with no surprises and nothing to recommend it except for the use of a trampoline.
It is followed by Sean Harris Oliver's Eight Seconds which delivers much in its nine minutes and 52 seconds more on stage. Jake Keefe is wonderful as the young rodeo rider and as his father Andrew May delivers rock-solid emotional impact under Miller-Stephany's fine direction.
The Book of Ruth by Joseph Samuel Wright provides two women's roles that exceptionally well performed by Micucci and O'Donnell. In this story of love and strength each woman makes a sacrifice and through loss achieve a new clarity about life and their future. Once again Miller-Stephany shines through as a director who can interpret nervousness as an emotion.
The show ends with Ann Marie Shea's Best in Class in which a divorced couple are led into a new and stronger relationship by their dogs, a French Poodle and a Jack Russell Terrier. Pathos and humor collide wonderfully in this charmingly directed play under Boyd's strong eye and arm. Jake Keefe and Madison Micucci could not be more deliciously animal than they are and Wilson and May turn in emotive performances that completely clarify their difficult marriage.
Emily King's costumes and Dylan Uremovich's lighting enhance the evening on Lars Nelson's sets. The show is always a wonder, seeing new talent develop the written word in so many ways and if one or two of the plays disappoint, there are always more that please. In February in Pittsfield, Barrington Stage is the place to go to find out what you will see in the future and wonder about what - and whom - you won't. I never miss it.
Peggy Pharr Wilson; photo: supplied
10x10 Upstreet plays on the St. Germain Stage at Barrington Stage Company's the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center located at 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield, MA through February 28. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-236-8888 or go on line to www.barringtonstageco.org