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THEATRE REVIEW: Barrington Stage’s 10×10 New Play Festival an oasis in a bleak, wet Berkshire winter

The 10 10-minute plays, divided by one intermission, feature 10 playwrights who, each with remarkable economy, illuminate some aspect of life—in the everyday, in the home or in the news—as we are living it, like it or not, in this 2019 winter of discontent.

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

The brightest, freshest oasis in the bleakest, wettest Berkshire winter is on Barrington Stage Company’s St. Germain Stage in Pittsfield—its eighth annual 10×10 New Play Festival. The 10 10-minute plays, divided by one intermission, feature 10 playwrights who, each with remarkable economy, illuminate some aspect of life—in the everyday, in the home or in the news—as we are living it, like it or not, in this 2019 winter of discontent.

Michael Fell and Robert Zukerman in ‘Cold Feet’ by Brad Sytsma at Barrington Stage Company’s 10×10 New Play Festival. Photo: Emma Rothenberg-Ware

Wisely, 10×10 bookends the performance with its strongest fare. Most unexpected is the show’s “Opening,” sung by the cast of six, who proclaim, in a lyrically sophisticated ditty by Matt Neely a la Shakespeare’s prelude to many of his plays, what is coming to delight the audience. Playwright L. H. Grant’s “Double Entendre” comes first—a sly, clever take on a casual dialogue between the sexes, which wryly turns #MeToo upside down through conversational summersaults in passive aggressivity all in under 10 minutes.

The short plays, which have just two or three characters, are all good, referencing (emphasis added) topics like Afghanistan and Vietnam vets, gay marriage, white supremacy, guns in school, environmental activism, organic farming and parenting. I emphasize “reference” because none of the work presents these topics literally or wallows pedantically or didactically. All the work is character-driven.

DeShawn Mitchell and Sarah Goeke in ‘Kid Stuff’ by Chris Shaw Swanson at Barrington Stage Company’s 10×10 New Play Festival. Photo: Emma Rothenberg-Ware

My personal favorites are those, like “Double Entendre,” that plumb comical or pathetic human nature rather than topical events. Most dramatic of the 10 is Donald Loftus’ “Eddie and Edna,” slotted as the next-to-the-last play. In a devastating 10 minutes, Loftus not only magnifies the world as seen by an elderly, demented man, but also asks the question at the soul of all timeless drama: What is real? The evening ends on light note, Brad Sytsma’s “Cold Feet” that reunites the whole cast in rollicking farce that shows how a modern bride copes with wedding nerves in everybody else but her.

BSC fluidly assembles the program, and links the plays with thematically appropriate interstitial song. Kudos to the seamless, invisible directorial hands of Julianne Boyd and Matthew Penn, who divide the director’s job among the 10 plays: You can’t tell who directed what. Casting is super. Berkshire theater patrons will delight in seeing BSC regulars Robert Zuckerman and Peggy Pharr Wilson on the boards again (especially in “Eddie and Edna”). BSC newcomers Sarah Goeke, Keri Safran, Michael Fell and DeShawn Mitchell: Please come back.

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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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