Radius Playwrights Festival unearths a trove of talent within 50 miles

GREAT BARRINGTON — When Berkshire Playwrights Lab opened its first Radius Playwrights Festival on Jan. 25 last year at St. James Place, the interior of the building was not quite finished and "the concrete for the front step hadn't been poured," said Jim Frangione, a BPL co-artistic director.

Now, one year and a day after BPL's festival of new short plays launched the all-purpose performing and visual arts venue in a converted church on Main Street, everything is well in place and ready to go for Radius' second annual edition.

The program of staged readings of six short plays by five playwrights who live within a 50-mile radius of St. James Place — where BPL makes its home — opens Friday evening at 7 and continues Saturday afternoon and evening at 2 and 7.

The writers — Maizy Scarpa, Joe Starzyk, Steve Otfinoski, Anne Undeland and Barry J. Kaplan — come from as far as Woodstock, N.Y. to as near as Sandisfield and neighboring East Chatham, Canaan and Brunswick, N.Y.

The plays are being directed by Tod Randolph, James Warwick, Kim Stauffer, Allyn Burrows, Michael Dowling and Mike Brady and performed by well-known regional actors.

Radius 2018 begins with a modern twist on the Pandora legend (Scarpa's "Pandora Shakes Things Up") and ends with Starzyk's imagining of a conversation between an executioner and his next victim in the moments before the ax falls ("What's Little Ax Between Friends").

Between the two are:

— "The Audition" by Steve Otfinoski. Directed by James Warwick

An actor's unique talent leaves a director wondering if he really understands what it means to be an actor and what their performance can contribute to a show.

— "The Golden Years" by Joe Starzyk. Directed by Mike Brady

Mabel and Norman have been together so long that they know everything there is to know about each other. Or do they?

"The Kiss" by Anne Undeland. Directed by Kim Stauffer

A viewing of Rodin's sculpture The Kiss causes a woman to question the meaning of love, her marriage, and to ask herself "what if?"

— "The Two Bobs" by Barry J. Kaplan. Directed by Mike Dowling

Bill and Jack are friends who ride the train together. On the way home one evening, they have an enigmatic conversation in which all, and nothing, is revealed.

The six plays have been culled from more than 100 submissions that arrived by the Oct. 31, 2017 deadline.

"We weren't prepared for that [many]," Frangione said by telephone. "We were surprised. The short form is very risky."

The plays were read by a panel of theater artists and critics. "No one knew who wrote which play," Frangione said. "We need to keep it that way so there will be no politics in making the final choices."

Two of the finalists, it turns out, participated in last year's festival — Otfinoski and Scarpa - and a third finalist, Undeland, is a member of BPL's Berkshire Voices writers group.

"I wanted a lot of variety; to open things up," Frangione said.

Frangione says he expected more politically oriented plays, given the current cultural climate.

"We have some plays that explore some themes we've seen before," Frangione said, "and we have more comedy than we had last year."

Among the plays that stand out for Frangione is "Pandora Shakes Things Up," which Scarpa has written in verse — iambic pentameter to be precise.

Scarpa says she wrote a lot of poetry, particularly in her student days at NYU's Tsich School of Arts, from which she has a BFA.

In a telephone interview from Albany, N.Y., where the 27-year-old actress-director-playwright-education artist works for the Alliance of Positive Health, a support organization for those with HIV/AIDS and other chronic conditions. Scarpa said she was interested in seeing if she could write a verse play for a festival that had strict requirements.

"I wanted to challenge myself," she said.

Tod Randolph, a veteran member of Shakespeare & Company, is directing."She has such a strong background in Shakespeare," Scarpa said, "such experience, I feel confident turning the play over to her."

Jeffrey Borak can be reached at 413-496-6212 or jborak@berkshireeagle.com


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