Theatre produced by salaried professionals for the public is only the most visible tip of the iceberg for theatre produced in this country. Community theatre, largely amateur and unpaid, plus college, school , and children's theatre may sometimes cater to the families and friends of the performers, but together such productions greatly outnumber Equity sanctioned shows everywhere but in NYC, and 0ften may equal or better the quality of the professional theatre available in the same area. Recently, there's also been an increase in professional theatre performed for the public but aimed at the larger theatre community as well, featuring performers of all ages and backgrounds performing for their "family and friends." (plus the ocassional critic.) The Boston Theater Marathon, a 10 hour annual event (now its second year), is a prime example. Featuring 10 minute contributions from Boston-area playwrights, presented by at least that many local professional theatres, ranging from Isreal Horowitz and the Gloucester Stage Co.(his home base) or John Kuntz, local writer/performer under the banner of the Huntington Theatre Co. (a LORT Theater based at BU) to Matt Mayerchak, a grad student backed by the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, a modest suburban from Lowell and AisleSay's own G.L. Horton sponsored by tiny Fire Dog Theatre from Arlington. Kate Snodgrass of Boston University's MFA program pulled all these people together, solicited scripts, organized a selection process, matched writers with sponsors, and provided the space and the back stage assistance All 40 shows were presented twice , back to back, four an hour , once in each of The Boston Playwright's Theatre's two studios , performed by actors whose professional credits range from decades of stage, film, and television experience to strong debuts in the current season. The result was enough stellar theatre to remind everyone how much is missed by not searching out more local performances, or in the case of many theatre people, by being too busy with their own work to attend the limited runs the Boston scene supports. The day was topped off by a party , a joyous family reunion, as the exhausted but proud participants basked in mutual appreciation, and alums of the previous year's efforts got acquainted with the newcomers. (A full schedule is appended at the end of this review).
I dashed from a crack of dawnish rehearsal at the further reaches of the Boston University campus-- more about such things later-- to arrive at the Playwrights Theatre in time to get a good seat for the opening show in Studio A, Matthew Myerchak's "The Great Outdoors," directed by David Kent, Artistic Director of the Merrimack Repertory Theatre of Lowell. Myerchak's script is a monologue, the stream of consciousness sex fantasy of a middle aged guy working out on a couple of exercise machines. It's performed by the incomparable Ken Baltin, whose salacious Bill Clinton in William Donnelly's version of a congressional interrogation re Monica, "Testimony", is my most vivid memory from last year's Marathon. In an epic Arctic adventure on the grueling Nordic Track, and rowing up the Charles River on his stationary scull, Baltin in hot pursuit of the elusive Damosel in "The Great Outdoors" once more proved himself master of the nifty nasty, a veritable virtuoso of ludicrous lust.
Next up: "Benita's Choice," by Lois Roach, sponsored by New Theatre Inc: a lovely sort of meditative moment snipped from one of Roach's full length plays. Robin Scott Manna (Benita) chooses a quiet time to revisit her husband's favorite bar, the one where she learned to dance and where she met her lover, Harold. Naheem Allah, the friendly bartender, is a perfect partner for Benita in her reflective mood. He knows how to listen, he knows how to dance, and he provides a safe harbor for a woman who just wants to take the time to let her life so far settle into her soul. Roach was awarded the "best director" IRNE for 1999, and she displayed a sure hand with her own material here.
Leslie Harrell Dillen's "Love Is the Law," directed by Nora Hussey of the Wellesley Theatre, is a sketch: a Southern belle of a Mom (Dillen) trades fairly standard comic banter with her daughter (Emily Coddington) while driving her to THE ivy league college in a van composed of 4 chairs. Then Mom is stopped by a Highway Patrolman (Stephan Cooper)but it isn't routine, not because she's a bit over the speed limit or has an expired license plate: she's under arrest for grand theft. From that point the script goes careening off into wilder and wilder territory.
"What the Market Will Bear," by Melinda Lopez, directed by Paul Daigneaut of Speakeasy Stage, features Carolyn Lawton as a college student who is the real Miss America, a young woman so endowed with all the qualities this society values that the genetic material in her eggs is worth... well, something between what medical entrepreneur June Lewin negotiated in their original contract and what the student has decides she deserves for going through the mental and physical miseries associated with "donating".
The next batch of plays had opened the program in studio B, and then shifted to Studio A for a second performance: which means that if you began the day in Studio B, Teresa Rebeck's "The First Day" was the first thing you saw. I thought it one of the most impressive 10 minutes of theatre I've ever seen. There was more information, emotion, characterization, theme, packed into it than goes into most full length plays. If I were simply to describe what happens in it, it would take two or three times as long as the piece takes to perform: it is that tightly wrought. It's a NYC kind of play, with a Village or NYU feel to it. It takes place on the first day of the year 2000, and the central character, Rick (Richard Snee) has taken up the task of collecting from the hospital the personal effects of the just deceased brother of Barbara, a friend of Rick's sister Stacy (Melinda Lopez). Rick agreed to do this depressing favor because he has had a crush on Barbara for some time. The lonely guy wants to demonstrate his availability, his nice-caring-guy-you can depend-on-for-support-and-understanding status as a prospective life partner. ExceptBarbara's brother was a drug addict, who abused her trust when she took him in and cared for him in his illness: those shopping bags full of the brother's stuff contain what in the way of memories? Maybe the stuff's even? Sharing his thoughts with the audience, Rick goes through a series of encounters and reactions relating to the "stuff", and to the sister he admires and the brother he never knew. These are brilliantly sketched, making the most elegant and economical use of theatrical means, setting up a symbolic system such every little thing that appears on stage carries multiple meanings, the accretions of every that's happened previously. By the end, the simple action of putting on a coat has come to represent a spiritual breakthrough of the first magnitude, the first day of a new life-- or death. Rebeck's piece was directed by David Sullivan for Boston Theatre Works, and performed by Boston's best: Natalie Brown, Vincent Siders, John Kuntz, and Andrea Walker, in addition to Lopez and Snee. It was well received, though not with the standing ovation and thunderous cries of "author!" it deserved. It's not that Rebeck's lingering neglected as a writer. She's doing all right; she's doing very well: TV gigs with Brooklyn Bridge, NYPD Blue, and Homicide; movie scripts, Off-Broadway and regional productions; a published collection of plays. But for sheer writing talent, the unique and muse given ability to think about human meaning in theatrical terms, Rebeck is-- and has been from the days when she was a student at Brandeis and produced by Playwrights' Platform--, as good as they come. If we, the theatre lovers of America, don't insist that Rebeck team up with a stage company that can offer her the opportunity and the obligation to do major work, we deserve the second rate we settle for.
William Donnelly's "Divorce Ribs" is a more minimalist effort, a backyard barbecue and male bonding are what you see, and pretty much what you get. For a moment or two my corrupted mind was racing ahead to imagine that the sizzling flesh on the grill would turn out to be that of the hero's ex-wife-- sorry, too much late night TV these last few months-- but whatever hint I was responding to or reading in passed on by, and the mood settled into stoic pastoral. Industrial Theatre, resident at Leverett House at Harvard, is the theatre playwright Donnelly has teamed up with, his year round locus for collegial creativity. Heather MaNamara directed actors Christopher Scully and Kevin LaVelle.
"Eggs Over Albuquerque" by Andy Mitton is built around a stunning theatrical image: time that stops for some characters while another is free to move around them unseen and unheard. It is set in a working man's diner where owner Bobby and his wife Rose, the waitress, disagree about the human worth of a nebbishy regular customer, but combine against him in a cruel practical joke. The joke goes so far that there is no turning back from the consequences; but in a larger sense, nothing is changed. This production, sponsored by Actors Workshop and with no credited director, featured spot-on acting by Equity veteran Bob Dolan, Lynda Newton, and Shawn Patrick Twomey, and flaunted the on stage cooking and eating of an order of fried eggs. This is probably the place to mention the miracles of the Playwrights Theatre tech crew. A couple of top-notch pros and a small army of volunteers set and struck 80 plays in 2 theatres without a hitch and on schedule, provided professional level lighting and sound cues, all with ONE tech cue-to-cue in each theatre per show. The techies made the shows look sleek, smooth, and well rehearsed, as if slapping and stabbing and embracing and frying eggs and lighting lamps on stage were no problemalthough in practice, for shows with no internal tech cues, the actors were performing with even a single run through on the Playwrights Theatre stages. This worked amazingly well; most of the actors took it in stride. I, however, did not. The more I saw how well everyone else was doing, the more my imagination conjured up the disasters that could overtake either the show I had written or the show in which I was going to be performing a role. By the time play # 8, Bill Lattanzi's Sam Spade, was up, I was in a State: ice cold hands, shakes, nauseathe works. I'd thought I was beyond all that, after doing this stuff for 40 some years, most of the time under circumstances where if anything can possibly go wrong, it does. I thought I had built up immunity to Stage Fright. But I discovered that I wanted desperately to Get This Right in front of an audience composed almost entirely of Everybody in Boston Theatre. Jury of my peers and all that. I was thrilled to be cast in Aidan Parkinson's Marathon play, as a 100 year old Irish woman who confesses 80 years worth of sexual escapades to her straight laced husband. My husband was to be played by Michael Bradshaw, a cadaverously thin and tall Brit of extraordinary grace and vigor who has the trick of looking about 90 without makeup, and is about as good an Equity actor as anybody in the world. I had admired Bradshaw since the first time I saw him on stage, and more with each successive role. (You could look up his Aisle Say notices on my Page) I expected that my awe of him would be overcome during rehearsal, as we got used to each other. But Michael is based in NYC, and was only able to be in Boston the weekend before and the day of the performance. I had only two rehearsals with Bradshawwhich was long enough to learn Aidan's play, but not long enough to get over the awe, and the concomitant fear that I would let the side down: blow my lines, flub the accent, break the chair, fall off the stage, run behind the curtain and be violently sick. I couldn't sit still for Lattanzi's play, much as I admire his writing. I had to run to ladies room and be violently sickgetting THAT out of the wayand then collapse into a corner of the dressing room, mumbling my lines over and over like a rosary. I haven't had nerves like that since high school!
Crossing Comm. Ave. ahead of a trolley to the BPT, tucked behind a MacDonald's on the fringe of the BU campus, dodging props being struck(an exercise machine and a back-yard grill), I got there in time to catch the buzz from Sam Spade starring the voice of WGBH Will Lyman and join the line for Studio A, a black-box space with a shallow stage against one long wall. The 2pm bill there raised unsettling problems of faithfulness, from Dana Yeaton's "Men in Heat," a sly look at artificial conception presented by Centastage to Horton's "Beyond Measure," an ambiguous confrontation between June Lewin the former and Maureen Keilor the current wife of a probable philanderer. At 3pm, scripts were more varied, the most unique being A Russian Tea Party performed by ten year old Eliza Rose Fichter, a monologue by Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro seen earlier this year at the Women on Top Festival.
The serio-comic dominated at 4pm, starting with "The Spacemaker," a take by Joshua White.on dealing with the devil when looking for an apartment, tightly directed by Fran Weinberg. "A Dog's Life," an argument between two inept dognappers fromMichael Hammond is sure to become an acting class favorite when these short pieces are eventually published. Brandon Toropov experimental "On the Menu at This Restaurant," with himself in the lead, was the most oblique piece of the day but kept the audience's attention and might lead to a longer piece. Finally, Aidan Parkinson rounded out the hour, and brought down the house, with an Irish love story, The News, as octoganarian Geralyn Horton (Gerty) confessed her numerous indiscretions to Michael Bradshaw (Harry) after he timorously confesses his one youthful slip.
Dossie Peabody lead off at 5pm in "Debt" as a hostage chained to a pipe with Lonnie Farmer dying of a gunshot wound in the bathtub. The problem raised here by Janet Kenney really couldn't be resolved in ten minutes, but left the audience wanting a conclusion. Later in the hour, "Chekov on Ice," the death scene from a bioplay by A.R.T. head Robert Brustein, presented realistically by senior company members, was more of an acedemic exercise with a foregone conclusion. Immediately following however was a riveting duet, "Work Makes One Free," from Andrew Clarke as Michael Kimball versus Brian Hinds go mind-to-mind waiting for a corporate meeting, directed by Adrew Sokoloff. This gem will be around for a while.
At 6pm, plays ranged from the kitchen, to a bar, to limbo seen as an airline terminal to Jon Lipsky's self-directed "After the Apocalypse" with Gerry Yukevich (Gabor), an aging Hungarian auteur, seducing Anita S. McFarlane (Melissa) into yet another film at the further risk of her sanity. This piece had the most creative use of food of the day. The 7pm bill ranged from M.I.T. provost, Alan Brody's "Moses" suggesting an alternative source for the 10 Commandments to Jim Daglish's moving AIDS parable "The Brave," sponsored by the Provincetown Theatre Co.
As the day went into the home stretch at 8pm., Ed Bullins, sponsored by the BPT, showed The Nubian Coronation Prologue, the start of a longer project. Since we've had opera, ballet, and art exhibits from the Nile this season, perhaps it's time that Black Theatre was heard from. Dress Right from Laura Harrington is also part of a longer play. Kuntz's Claire with Paula Plum in the title role, an actress bedeviled by past roles, offered the best single part of the day, in a riveting performance. In a day filled with a myriad of interesting performances, this ten-minute monodrama, directed by Scott Edmiston stood out. We look forward to their next collaboration.
The final bill (in Studio A, plays mentioned above closed the day in Studio B) opened with three senior ladies on the porch watching cars and clueing in their naive friend who is confused about "homeless sexuals." This Jack Neary sketch had wit, timing, and Kate Carney, Patricia Till, and Alice Duffy to get the most sustained laughs of any piece. Actress/playwright Cyndi Freeman's stand-up monologue as she encounters career counselor, Phyliss Stein, came close however. Horowitz's "The Great Labor Day Classic," which, as a road race, has the cast running in place for most of the action, was the perfect metaphor for the BTM, and a satisfactory addition to the author's continuing observations of life and regional accents on the North Shore.
A few impressions of the day. A lot of local playwrights can act, or is it the other way round. Some also direct. Food and drink are in onstage; cigarettes generally out. There's a narrow line between too much and just enough furniture. Excerpts from longer works are risky at such an event. All actors are character actors, but those who've played a variety of smaller roles may be better at it. Lope da Vega, prolific playwright from the golden age of Spain was right; all theatre requires is a simple stage, two actors, and a passion. Boston's playwrights have passion enough. There is an audience. What's lacking is enough affordable theatre space. Now Geralyn gets to sum up her day.
In any event, my play, "Beyond Measure" went reasonably well in Studio A, considerably better than that in Studio B; and I was word-perfect and focused and in character for Aidan's, the fright taking flight the moment I felt the familiar and magical light casting its halo on me. All that angst for naught! After I came off stage and took off wig and warts, I was able to enjoy all the rest of the Marathon, and party after. Lynda Robinson, an writer-actor whose work I have always admired, gave me the peer approval I so longed for with a hug and a brilliant smile and an "I'm so proud of us!" shouted out over the band. It felt great. It felt like New Year's and birthdays and Christmas all together. It felt, for the moment, as if the theatre I love was alive and well and in Boston.
12:00 NOON-2:00 PM
1. "Great Outdoors" - Matt Mayerchak; "The First Day" - Theresa Rebeck* 2. "Benitas Choice" - Lois Roach*; "Divorce Ribs" - William Donnelly* 3. "Love is the Law" - Leslie Harrell Dillen; "Eggs Over Albuquerque" - Andy Mitton* 4. "What the Market Will Bear" - Melinda Lopez*; "Sam Spade" - Bill Lattanzi*
1. "Silk" - Lisa Seymour-Terry; "A Peck of Dust" - Sinan Unel* 2. "Men in Heat" - Dana Yeaton; "AllergicReaction" - Susanna Ralli 3. "Beyond Measure" - G.L. Horton; "A Russian Tea Party" - Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro* 4. "Arrhythmia" - Ginger Lazarus; "Y2-Krackd" - Jerry Bisantz
1. "Spacemaker" - Joshua White; "Debt" - Janet Kenney* 2. "A Dog's Life" - Michael Hammond; "The Duke"- Richard Schotter* 3. "On the Menu at this Restaurant" - Brandon Toropov*; "Chekhov on Ice", Robert Brustein* 4. "The News" - Aidan Parkinson*; "Work Makes One Free" - Andrew Clarke
1. "Do-It-Yourselfers" - William Cunningham*; "Sure Shot" - John Shea 2. "Woozey Woo!" - Robert Macadaeg; "Moses" - Alan Brody* 3. "Peanuts" - Tug Yourgrau*; "The Brave" - Jim Dalglish 4. "After the Apocalypse" - Jon Lipsky; "My Name is Leslie" - Larry Blamire
1. "Y2K and Warm Milk" - M. Lynda Robinson* "Alternative Lifestyles" - Jack Neary* 2. "Dress Right" - Laura Harrington*, "The Three-Legged Dog" - Talaya Delaney* 3. "The Nubian Coronation Prologue" - Ed Bullins*; "Art Girl vs. The Phyllis Stein" - Cyndi Freeman 4. "Claire" - John Kuntz; "The Great Labor Day Classic" - Israel Horovitz*
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