At Barrington Stage Company: '10x10 New Play Festival 2014' anthology says much with less

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PITTSFIELD -- In "Lost and Found," playwright Gwendolyn Rice's affecting contribution to this year's generally entertaining "10x10 New Play Festival" at Barrington Stage Company, a middle-aged woman named Sarah, played pitch-perfectly by Peggy Pharr Wilson, sets off on a deeply emotional journey triggered, ostensibly, by the seeming loss of her car keys.

It's a hard painful journey that connects to her grandfather but, more importantly, to her jurist father, who has just died of Alzheimer's, and the values he has taught her. But as Rice's title suggests, Sarah's journey is not simply one of adjusting to what has been lost, it also is about taking in what is found along her way.

"Lost and Found" doesn't turn up until midway through the second half of "10x10" but in a thematic sense, it is in many ways emblematic of this year's collection of new short plays on the whole.

In so many of these plays, what is lost, what is discovered, what remains elusive, what is to be found hiding in plain sight is not always as material as a set of car keys. Opportunity -- too often missed -- looms large.

A father (Robert Zukerman) and son (John Zdrojeski), in Lynn Rosen's at once simple and complex "I Love You," reach across a cafe table and unforgiving years of recrimination, blame, dismissal, regret and bitterness to assert a connection that has eluded them for far too long.

In the process of firing a trusted and valued aide (Wilson), the employer (Matt Neely) finds something unexpected beneath the woman's annoying, intrusive veneer in Suzanne Bradbeer's "Man the Torpedoes."

A noontime New Year's Eve celebration in a retirement home -- in David MacGregor's "New Year's Eve" -- offers an opportunity for a curmudgeonly, grimly realistic, if also apprehensive, resident (Zukerman) to assert his sense of life force in the company of his nurse (Emily Kunkel), whose patience will be tested to the limit.


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Life's ironies also play a hand or two; life lessons learned in chance encounters -- between a homeless man and a homeless woman (Zukerman and Wilson) in Scott McCarrey's whimsical "Homeless Romantic;" with wrenching pathos in Megan Dieterle's carefully, movingly wrought "Debridement" (pronounced dibredment) in which an emergency room physician finds he has much more in common with a single mother -- with whom he's been thrown together through a terrible tragedy -- than either might have imagined.

John Cariani's typically quirky "Uh-Oh" finds a bride reaching for an unsettlingly innovative way of dealing with the boredom of married life that has unexpectedly settled in after only 11 months of marriage.

And in Ron Burch's deliciously funny and clever "The Possethsion," the parents (Neely and Kunkel) of a 12-year-old girl from Hell (an absolutely sublime Dina Thomas) consider the implications of having an offspring who is demonically possessed.


As you might expect in an anthology, there are some misfires. Jodi Rothe's "The Prompter" -- in which a make-up artist (Thomas) regales her client, an actress (Kunkel) who is about to audition for the lead role in a production of "Hedda Gabler," with details of her bizarre encounter with a Picasso painting -- is a dense muddle.

And the program's closer, James McLindon's "Sweethert Roland," is a misguided send-up of a Grimm fairy tale taken to its grimmest limits in a labored and erratically timed presentation featuring all six members of the 10x10 ensemble doing their best to look as if they are having the time of their lives.


Still, in its third year, BSC's "10x10 New Play Festival" continues to be a highlight of the winter theater scene. As has been the case with the festival in each of its three years, the acting company is uniformly strong and resourceful and the direction by this year's trio of Julianne Boyd, Christopher Innvar and Kristen van Ginhoven is, for the most part, clean and insightful.

At its best,"10x10" shows yet again just how much can be said about who we are as human beings with less.


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