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Berkshire Theatre Group will produce a free stage reading of playwright (left) Noah Diaz's "The Swindlers" on March 19. The reading is directed by Kat Yen, right.

STOCKBRIDGE — Once is not enough for playwright Noah Diaz.

His newest play, “The Swindlers,” was fully staged in September at Baltimore's Center Stage, which commissioned the piece.

The production was a learning experience for Diaz. So, at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 19, his freewheeling play about a con man and his daughter will be given a free staged reading at Berkshire Theatre Group’s Unicorn Theatre in collaboration with New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company.

Diaz and the reading’s director, Kat Yen, who was not involved in the Baltimore production, are no strangers to one another. They’ve worked together before.

“We've developed a really good working relationship,” the New York-born Taiwanese American director said by phone from her home in San Diego. “Noah felt there were some changes he wanted to make. He trusts me, so he asked me if I would work on this reading.”

Set in the 1970s, “The Swindlers” focuses on a discontented pregnant laundry attendant named Marie, whose life is at sixes and sevens, and her estranged father, George, a con man on the run from federal authorities for bilking families and businesses. She is pressured by two Keystone Cops-style FBI agents to act as bait for his capture as she and her father lead the agents on a wild road trip across nearly half the country.

The aim of the reading, Yen said, “is to make the story as clear and logical as possible; to smooth out inconsistencies in character and story development."

The reading comes to Berkshire Theatre Group through the efforts of playwright and director David Auburn, “who has really done incredible work on new play development for us [and] reached out to colleagues at Roundabout … ,” Berkshire Theatre Group artistic director and CEO Kate Maguire said via email. “They have a robust and nationally recognized program that supports the development of new plays.”

Diaz was one of four playwrights involved in a Roundabout/BTG residency last year in the Berkshires. Four more playwrights will be participating in a two-week residency later this month.

“This development process is invaluable for playwrights,” Maguire said. “[We have] long supported emerging artists and new works. Supporting the development of new work is the foundation … to our future.”

Diaz more than qualifies as an emerging young playwright and screenwriter. Last September, he was named one of "Four Theater Artists to Watch" by the New York Times. He has an MFA from Yale School of Drama. His plays have been produced at Roundabout Theatre, Center Stage in Baltimore, Manhattan Theatre Club, and LaJolla Playhouse, where Yen is the 2023/24 Directing Fellow.

Diaz calls “The Swindlers” “a true-ish tall tale;” a “memory farce” loosely inspired by events in the lives of his mother and grandfather. It is a highly theatrical play that weaves a host of themes, among them, life as performance/performance as life; roles we play in life; who gets to tell our stories; who decides what stories to tell; relationships; the nature of truth.

For Yen, “The Swindlers” is about “finding out your parents are human and you are too. [It] makes you cry one second, laugh another.”

With the demands the play; physicality makes on its actors, is a workout for a cast of five, all but one of whom — the actor portraying Marie — play multiple roles. Yen will spend the first day of the reading’s two-day rehearsal period reading through the play. The second day, she said, will focus on the play’s physical comedy. The actors will need all the energy they can muster “to keep the play’s energy going,” Yen said. “It will be a challenge.”

Yen comes to this project as an “emerging artist” in her own right. She has directed at Atlantic Theater Company, Ars Nova, Cherry Lane Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theatre and The Bushwick Starr. She’s an alumnus of Lincoln Center Directors Lab; a former resident director of Flea Theater in New York; and teaching artist at Stella Adler School of Acting, LAByrinth Theater Company, and Marymount Manhattan College. She has an MFA in directing from Yale School of Drama.

In addition to her compatible working relationship with Diaz, Yen said she was drawn to “The Swindlers” because of its resonances of magic realism which blends naturalistic elements with the surreal. It’s a form Yen loves. She describes “The Swindlers” as “elevated realism,” which plays out in a kind of meta world.

“I love the meta,” Yen said brightly. “This play presents us with a very real moment with very real people sharing this space.”

Her main task, she said, will be to “make the story as clear and logical as possible.

“My job is to fully render the universe imagined by Noah and bring it to [onstage] reality.”


What: Staged reading of “The Swindlers.” Written by Noah Diaz. Directed by Kat Yen

Who: Berkshire Theatre Group in collaboration with Roundabout Theatre Company

Where: Unicorn Theatre, 6 East St., Stockbridge

When: 2 p.m. March 19

Tickets: free

Reservations and information: 413-997-4444; berkshiretheatregroup.org

COVID policy: Masks recommended but not required. 

Jeffrey Borak is The Eagle's theater critic.