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THEATRE REVIEW: Barrington Stage’s 10×10 New Play Festival a perfect midwinter offering

The play that ends the first half of the program, 'Pipeline' written by Michael Brady and directed by Julianne Boyd, is utterly moving and effective as three exuberant protestors on the edge of a mountain forest in south Berkshire County are confronted by an actual moment of disaster.

10×10 New Play Festival
By Suzanne Bradbeer, Michael Brady, Patrick Gabridge, L.H. Grant, Lila Rose Kaplan, Steven Korbar, Donald Loftus, Scott Mullen, Chris Shaw Swanson, Brad Sytsma and Matt Neely
Directed by Julianne Boyd and Matthew Penn

“… a photo booth for your sins.”

When a play about confession turns into an examination of the roles of angels on Earth, when a play about waiting in line becomes an examination of language impact, when a play about return policies morphs into a revenge saga, when a play about the difficult stages of a marriage alters into a play about memory and mind control, when these and more issue-oriented 10-minute plays are joined together in a single evening, you are at Barrington Stage Company’s 10×10 New Play Festival and, I suspect, you are glad to be there. I was. Last year’s excursion was a definite laugh riot, but this year the laughter is tempered by some serious investigations of the human condition.

Peggy Pharr Wilson and Robert Zukerman in ‘Eddie and Edna’ by Donald Loftus at Barrington Stage Company’s 10×10 New Play Festival. Photo: Emma Rothenberg-Ware

Chief among the latter works is “Eddie and Edna” by Donald Loftus, directed by Matthew Penn. Set during breakfast, the two characters, played by Robert Zukerman and Peggy Pharr Wilson, spar over coffee about  aspects of their daily grind and over his capability to do things for himself. They also talk about their son, presumably dead, and about her understanding of his emotional reactions. When she leaves the room and the son appears to talk about the death of his mother, things become curiously clear. The son, uncredited in the program, is played by Michael Fell. The play is a shattering experience and its final moments brought tears to my eyes. It is an experience rather than just a play and everyone involved with it stands poised on the edge of genius. All by itself it is worth the price of admission.

Similarly, the play that ends the first half of the program, “Pipeline” written by Michael Brady and directed by Julianne Boyd, is utterly moving and effective as three exuberant protestors on the edge of a mountain forest in south Berkshire County are confronted by an actual moment of disaster. DeShawn Mitchell, Wilson and Sarah Goeke give us three levels of involvement with the cause as bulldozers approach their minimalist encampment. As good as the play is, the lighting by Derek Keifer and the sound design work by Alexander Sovronsky bring a borderline of reality to the piece that is stultifying, amplifying the message of the work. You literally stagger from your seat at the start of the intermission, deeply affected by the play.

Sarah Goeke and Keri Safran in ‘Cold Feet’ by Brad Sytsma at Barrington Stage Company’s 10×10 New Play Festival. Photo: Emma Rothenberg-Ware

The closing work, “Cold Feet” by Brad Sytsma, involves the full company of six players in a pre-wedding-jitters experience that gives every member of the company special moments. Keri Safran is the uncomfortable and comfort-shattering bridesmaid, and she is wonderfully funny in the role. Fell as the groom experiencing the title attitude is delicious and Mitchell as the awkward best man is hilarious. It is Wilson’s Mother who truly shines in this piece, her control over both comic and tragic elements of the work uniquely brilliant as she forges both aspects of her character indelibly in the limestone of humanity. Boyd has directed this farcical work imbuing it with perfect timing and symmetry.

Zukerman and Goeke make “Organic Seed” by Patrick Gabridge, directed by Matthew Penn, into a food fight of delight. Boyd opens the show with L.H. Grant’s “Double Entrende,” which may be one of the funniest “word” plays ever. Goeke and Fell are fabulous as they grapple with language, meaning and the hidden meaning behind the words. “172 Push-Ups” by Scott Mullen expands the horizons as Safran presents her military bearing in a confrontation with Zukerman’s retired soldier.

The 10 plays are all very good and each worth watching. Matt Neely has written an “opening number” for the company about the entertainment, a short piece well worth watching, but keep your ears and eyes wide open to grasp every funny moment as his lyrics play out to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s song saga of the Major-General.

Robert Zukerman in ‘Twas the Day After Christmas’ by Steven Korbar at Barrington Stage Company’s 10×10 New Play Festival. Photo: Emma Rothenberg-Ware

One of the finest pieces opens the second half of the show, Steven Korbar’s “Twas the Day After Christmas,” a two-character play featuring Wilson and Zukerman. These two experienced actors create two very memorable characters in a play about a store clerk’s pre-planned revenge on a customer whose annual appearance she has documented over a period of six years. There is high comedy here as the actors create characters unique in voice, accent, tone and interplay (totally different from their creations three plays later). After the devastation wrought at the end of Part One of 10×10 (pre-intermission), this change of pace is much appreciated and though there is a dramatic turn in the work, it sets up the second half of the presentation brilliantly under Penn’s direction.

The six players, two directors and 10 (11) authors deliver a perfect midwinter offering deep in the heart of Berkshire County. Always fascinating as an experience with unfamiliar authors, this year may rank as one of the best.

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10×10 New Play Festival plays on the St. Germain Stage at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield, Massachusetts, through Sunday, March 10. For information and tickets, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, go to barringtonstageco.org or call the box office at (413) 236-8888.

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