PITTSFIELD -- By design or by chance -- a little of both, I suspect -- the territory navigated by this year’s edition of Barrington Stage Company’s "10x10 New Play Festival" is a sort of twilight zone in which the ties that bind family members, friends, lovers, acquaintances, strangers often defy time and space, even life, and are put through extraordinary tests.
The most haunting example is Amelia Roper’s delicate, elegant, sly "Camberwell House," in which a 75-year old woman, Annie (played with gripping richness and nuance by Peggy Pharr Wilson), traces her nearly lifetime friendship with a woman named Olive as an innocently made 55-year-old pledge comes home to roost.
"Camberwell House" ends "10x10’s" first half on a memorable note that turns out to be prologue to Aurin Squire’s haunting post-intermission opener, "Freefalling," which, told through the voices of two passengers and a hostess, recounts the final moments of an airplane plunging toward a high-risk landing.
The evening opens on a playful note with Craig Pospisil’s inventive "There’s No Here Here" in which a struggling American writer in Paris learns a lesson from an unlikely muse about the nature of the creative process.
"10x10’s" other gems:
n John C. Davenport’s "Context," a clever, whimsical and insightful dissection of a romantic break-up and reconciliation;
n Donna Hoke’s
The rest is a collection of opportunities that are far less on stage than they must have seemed in the imagination.
James McLindon’s "The Wilderness" is a forced, pretentious affair in which two seriously wounded Civil War soldiers -- one a born-again Confederate, the other an Irish-Catholoic immigrant fighting for the Union -- face a life-or-death decision while trapped in a forest ravine by an advancing fire.
Martha Patterson’s "Christmas Eve, Years From Now" is a spotty, at best, post-apocalyptic comedy that finds mankind back in the caves.
Brett Hursey’s rambling "Stand-In" finds an aspiring young actress (played by the immensely talented Emily Taplin Boyd) auditioning with and competing against a sock puppet named Xocko.
"The Bounce" by Jacqueline Goldfinger is a rambling monologue, delivered ably by Elizabeth Aspenlieder, that seems little more than a first draft.
Christopher Innvar fares only marginally better with his hesitantly performed "Higher Ground," in which, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a father and his son (an earnest Sean McIlquaham), wander storm-littered streets in search of gasoline for the family’s abandoned car; a walk that leads to a remarkable experience for the father. But while the father’s mission is clear, Innvar’s is not. The writing feels incomplete and the performances underrehearsed, save for Aspenlieder’s vibrant appearance.
Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of their writing, these 10 playwrights could not have asked for better than the performances they are getting from this remarkably talented company of actors -- Wilson, Taplin Boyd, Dustin Charles, Scott Drummond, Matt Neely and Aspenlieder. Talk about bonding.