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10X10 UPSTREET ARTS FESTIVAL

Short plays take center stage in Barrington Stage's 10X10 New Play Festival

Festival returns with in-person performances on Boyd-Quinson Stage

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This year's 10 X 10 Festival plays are being performed by an ensemble of 10X10 veterans and newcomers. They include (back row) Robert Zukerman, Doug Harris and BSC Associate Artist Peggy Pharr Wilson. Front row: Kelsey Rainwater, Aziza Gharib and Matt Neely.

PITTSFIELD — The way 62-year-old Southern California writer Robert Weibezahl sees it, writing a 10-minute play “leaves no room for ‘fat.’ It’s just an episode or an encounter but it has to have a purpose.” He’s a published writer — short stories, novels, non-fiction, poetry — but for the last five years playwriting has become something of a métier.

“There is nothing more thrilling and satisfying than seeing your work performed, your words spoken, your characters brought to life,” Weibezahl said. “Other forms of creative writing don't give you that."

He’s written full-length plays but it took awhile before he wrote his first short play a few years ago. Fellow playwrights told him it was a must because, they said, “a short play is a ‘calling card,’ an opportunity to introduce your work to theaters and audiences.”

Weibezahl is one of 10 playwrights who will be leaving a calling card at Barrington Stage Company’s Boyd-Quinson Stage in BSC’s 11th Annual 10X10 New Play Festival. Performances begin Feb. 24 and run through March 13. The show also will be streamed March 31 through April 3.

The plays are being performed by an ensemble of 10X10 veterans and newcomers: Aziza Gharib, Doug Harris, Matt Neely, Kelsey Rainwater, Peggy Pharr Wilson, and Robert Zukerman.

Weibezahl’s “Gown,” about a mother, a daughter and a wedding gown, and the nine other plays in the festival were culled from 280 submissions.

“We got a few (Donald J.) Trump-bashing plays; only one semi-political play,” said Julianne Boyd, BSC’s founding artistic director who is directing five of the plays in the festival. Matthew Penn is directing the other five.

As much as possible, Boyd said, the team of play readers (she and Penn made the final selections) stayed away from political plays.

Barrington Stage Company's 2022 season features 4 world premieres, an absurdist drama and classic musicals

Boyd said she wanted to give audiences an evening of pure entertainment; 100 minutes of relief from the darkness of winter and the gloom of COVID and world events.

“We wanted to give something to the community,” she said. “People need to laugh.”

There is a preponderance of two-character plays. The material is fresh, Boyd said, not work that had been written a while ago and tucked away in a drawer until now. And while no conscious effort has been made to select plays around a central theme, several plays have to do with deception, truth, honesty – “what is true? what is false?” Boyd asked rhetorically.

The plays reflect the times we are in, Penn said. ”We are now used to being lied to,” he said during an interview with Boyd at BSC’s Wolfson Center on North Street. “People’s relationship to truth has become optional. Say something often enough and it becomes true.”

What is true and what is not true is at the heart of Ellen Abrams’ whimsical “calling card,"  “Liars’ Anonymous,” in which two members of a Liars Anonymous group find themselves cleaning up after a meeting and trading steadily escalating imaginative narratives of their respective lives that will have, for the audience, more than a ring of recognition.

Abrams said she got the idea from a conversation with someone who had attended a recovery group meeting in Ireland.

“People in different cultures have different ways of expressing things,” the 64-year-old said by telephone from the Upper West Side New York apartment she shares with her husband and their cat. “She said there was a group of older women, sitting in a row at the back of the room, knitting and clucking under their breaths to what they sensed were exaggerated accounts told during the meeting.

Abrams counts among her various writings six full-length plays but, she said, "nothing has given me more pleasure than writing pure dialogue."

“Here, you are creating a whole world in 10 minutes," she said. "This is a little jewel of storytelling.”

As a director, these little jewels of storytelling, Penn said, “are (drawn from) everything you can create based on what’s happened before these 10 minutes.”

Until last year, the festival has been performed in BSC’s smaller St. Germain Stage at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Arts Center on Union Street. In 2021, due to COVID, the festival was streamed. This year is the first time the festival will appear on BSC’s Boyd-Quinson Stage, allowing for proper COVID safety protocols.

Boyd and Penn acknowledge the experience of performing before a sea of masked faces may be something a little bit different for the actors who won’t have the audience feedback — facial reactions; unmuffled laughter — they would get under “normal” conditions.

“This is the first comedy we’ll be performing before a masked audience,” Boyd said.

There has always been something of a freewheeling quality to 10X10. Rehearsal time is short — just under two weeks — set pieces, props, costumes are minimal and drawn from BSC’s scenery and costume shops.

This year’s festival is the 11th in which Boyd has directed; her last as artistic director of Barrington Stage Company. She is retiring, at the end of the 2022 season, from the company she founded in 1995.

This is Penn’s sixth 10X10 festival. He enjoys the mix of material.

“What’s fun are the plays that surprise you,” he said. “You read a play and think ‘well, that’s okay’ and then you put it in front of an audience and it’s a real howl.”

Boyd credits the actors for bringing their own input, their imagination and creativity, to the plays.

For audiences and artists, Penn said, “there is such a liberating quality to 10X10, you just dive in.”

2022 10X10 NEW PLAY FESTIVAL 

"Liars Anonymous"

By Ellen Abrams. Directed by Matthew Penn. 

Max and Charlotte clean up after a Liars Anonymous meeting and regale each other with creative renditions of their lives that sound suspiciously familiar.

"Stealing A Kiss"

By Laurie Allen. Directed by Julianne Boyd.

Two elderly citizens meet at a bus stop where raindrops turn to rain, turn to love.

"Love Me, Love My Work"

By Glenn Alterman. Directed by Julianne Boyd.

Jane is furious because she believes that Ned told Sarah that he hated her new play. Soon we discover the truth about this, and the unique relationship between Ned, Jane and Sarah.

"Escape from Faux Pas"

By Cynthia Faith Arsenault. Directed by Matthew Penn.

Newcomers to a prestigious condo community find themselves in a precarious social situation, having inadvertently opened their neighbor's Amazon delivery of — well, that's the fun part!

"An Awkward Conversation in the Shadow of Mount Moriah"

By John Bavoso. Directed by Matthew Penn.

Things are a little tense between Abraham and Isaac after the almost-sacrifice. The bond between the Old Testament's most famous father-son duo is on thin ice.

"Honestly"

By Steven Korbar. Directed by Matthew Penn.

A young man and woman end their short romantic relationship and find they can speak to each other with complete honesty for the first time.

"Misfortune"

By Mark Henry Levine. Directed by Julianne Boyd.

A couple gets some disturbing news from a fortune cookie.

"Climax"

By Chelsea Marcantel. Directed by Matthew Penn.

The violins swell, the perfect-for-each-other lovers kiss, and you just know that everyone is going to live happily ever after ... or will they? For Sam and Teddy, the long-awaited kiss proves to be the easy part.

"The Voice of the People"

By Cary Pepper. Directed by Julianne Boyd.

Who'll be Home Haven's new mayor — the candidate with impeccable qualifications, or the one with no experience, no platform and no agenda? Sounds like a slam dunk.

"Gown"

By Robert Weibezahl. Directed by Julianne Boyd.

Lynn and Annie embark on that treasured mother-daughter rite of passage: shopping for the perfect wedding gown. But saying yes to the dress proves not so straightforward as their afternoon in the bridal shop reveals an unforeseen agenda.

Jeffrey Borak is The Eagle's theater critic. 

Jeffrey Borak is The Eagle's theater critic.

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