Ten plays @ 10 minutes each = comic gold.
That equation is true this year at Barrington Stage Company’s annual New Play Festival, now in its third year. Directors Julianne Boyd, Christopher Innvar, and Kristen van Ginhoven rotate directing the 10 plays, and whether the one-act is a character study, a look at contemporary issues, a riff on a classic improv exercise, or SNL-worthy sketch comedy (with just a touch more soul), this year’s 10 X 10 New Play Festival pulses with a quick pace, tight timing, and laughs that occasionally deepen to something richer. Aided by an able cast of Emily Kunkel, Matt Neely, Dina Thomas, Peggy Pharr Wilson, John Zdrojeski, and Robert Zukerman, BSC’s 10X10: New Play Festival approaches the excellence of StageWorks/Hudson’s annual Play by Play series.
The Possethsion by Ron Burch kick-starts 10 X 10 by leaping headlong into a three-person sketch on the demonic possession of 12-year-old Megan (a sprightly Dina Thomas) by the demon Sethamongus (a deeper-voiced Thomas); that the bewildered parents (Emily Kunkel and Matt Neely) might prefer the demonic possession as less disruptive fuels the SNL-worthy comedy, especially as the “Live from Pittsfield, it’s 10X10” intro follows the opening play.
Man the Torpedoes by Suzanne Bradbeer and Lost and Found by Gwendolyn Rice both feature BSC stalwart Peggy Pharr Wilson as different middle-aged women dealing with loss, from death of a friend or loss of a parent to Alzheimer’s, Wilson’s talent making the happy endings digestible not just sentimental reflux.
The Prompter by Jodi Rothe and Homeless Romantic by Scott McCarrey each take surreal leaps from opposite ends of the economic classes; the former centered on Sally (Dina Thomas again) who falls into a Picasso painting at the Met and spins a multilayered tale imagining art that doesn’t come to life as much as it takes Sally’s life into it, while the latter features “beggar gentleman” (the versatile Robert Zukerman) with a cardboard sign reading “Life Story 25 cents,” who tells just that in fabulist fashion until he meets his soulmate, “beggar gentlewoman” (Peggy Pharr Wilson again), and makes a simple, silent two-letter change in his sign. And that makes all the difference: Imagine Waiting for Godot’s Didi finding his Dulcinea, and you capture the whimsical rapture of Homeless Romantic.
Sweetheart Roland by James McLindon ends 10 X 10 with a riff on an old improv exercise that goes by many names; I learned it as “Paperback Writer,” where one actor creates an audience-inspired tale that the other actors play out, as the first actor narrates. While this lacks the verve and bravery (and integrity) of great improv, the full-cast sketch weaves the magic of a manic and mangled Grimm’s fairy tale to several hilarious endings. Sweetheart Roland makes for a suitable ado for the merry antics of this year’s 10 X 10.