For the second year the three theater professionals who run the Berkshire Playwright’s Lab in Great Barrington, Jim Frangione, Matthew Penn, and Joe Cacaci, have presented — for three performances on January 26 and 27 at St. James Place in Great Barrington — staged readings of new works by regional playwrights, using six directors and a core group of professional actors, all of whom live within the region. With a view toward the many aspects of comedy, this year’s selections were pulled from over 100 plays submitted, utilizing a blind selection process and a group of readers who brought professional credits to the game. The result was a mixed bag of mini-treats.
In a sort of tribute to the blind selection process two of the six short plays were written by the same author, Joe Starzyk, and were performed sequentially back-to-back as a mid-point to the presentation. Three of the chosen works were developed and presented in the BPL’s playwrighting workshop, known as Berkshire Voices: “The Audition” by Steve Otfinoski, “Pandora Shakes Things Up” by Maizy Scarpa, and “The Kiss” by Anne Undeland.
Otfinoski’s play opened the group. A dark comedy about an actor whose claim to fame is playing Godot, it set the tone for the performance to follow. Kevin O’Rourke played The Director and Chris Tucci The Actor. Both handled their roles admirably under the direction of James Warwick. This tale of the off-stage actor’s influence on a play went on a bit too long for its one-joke concept, but generally played well to an appreciative audience.
It was followed by “The Two Bobs” by Barry J. Kaplan, with Josh Briggs and Thom Whaley playing businessmen on a train into the city discussing their relationships at work and with the world. Mike Dowling directed what was unfortunately a dry, and not very amusing piece that, at the end, left the audience dangling, wondering what it was all about. Kaplan is a well-respected and highly successful author and this play felt just unfinished somehow.
The first Starzyk play, “What’s a Little Ax Between Friends,” was another rather dark piece about a Prisoner and his Executioner in a time long gone. Watching Ryan Marchione as the masked working man discover and admire his intended victim, played by Martin Jason Asprey, under the direction of Allyn Burrows, was a bit of a joy, although the anticipated ending of the play — finished in the dark — could have been stronger if directed differently.
The play that followed this, “The Golden Years” — also by Starzyk — was a much better effort. Diane Prusha as Mabel and Sam Bittman as Norman are separating after long years of a clearly uncomfortable marriage. He is leaving her for another woman, but she has some long-held secrets that completely discomfort him. The slow, unwinding comedy of this piece was a joy to listen to in Mike Brady’s simple, static and completely successful staging. Prusha, as always, was a marvel.
Maizy Scarpa’s play in verse took a silly look at life in a contemporary high school as it might have been perceived by the offspring of William Shakespeare and William Inge if they had conceived a playwrighting child. Half the comedy here came from the language, half from the plot and as directed by Tod Randolph, the play’s motion made it a charmer. The large cast consisted of KD McTeigue as Pandora, James Occhio as Janitor, Thor Shuhan as Ares, Yvonne Perry as Teacher, Annie Considine as Epimitheus and Leigh Strimbeck as the “voice of authority.”
The collection ended with Undeland’s fine, fine play — for my money the best in the group. An American couple in Paris, Pam and Phil, stop off at the Rodin Museum to see his statue, The Kiss, and Pam, played by Mae Hedges, becomes totally enthralled by it. Later, in the company of another female tourist played by Leigh Strimbeck, the statue takes on an inspirational life and the result of this inspiration is as unexpected as a sudden thunderstorm. Genuinely funny, this last work more than totally justified the 75 minute presentation. It was directed with a beautiful and delicate sensibility by Kim Stauffer.
Frangione and Penn indicated in their introduction to the collection that this is only the beginning for the Radius series. I’d say book now for next year rather than risk missing out on these new discoveries.