13th Annual Boston Theater Marathon
Produced by The Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
May 22, 2011
12 Noon – 10 PM Sunday
Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts
527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA
Noon. They’re off and running. Fifty theater- companies, fifty directors, fifty writers, fifty ten-minute plays – five plays an hour for ten hours. Wowza!
The thirteenth running of the Boston Theater Marathon is out of the gate. The seats are predominantly filled with a Whitman sampler of veteran play goers and first timers who’ve come to cheer a friend, family member, neighbor, lover, teacher, student and lord knows what other configuration of association.
Each play has a writer, director, actors, technical staff, and represents a Boston theater company…you do the math. That’s enough to keep the 360 seat Virginia Wimberly Theatre at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion filled for ten hours. Every ten minutes is punctuated with anything from polite applause to whoops of delight, the former for a WTF was that all play all about to a spontaneous ignition of cheering for ten minutes that touched your heart, made you laugh out loud, or made you marvel at the ingenuity of what a playwright can achieve in one sixth of an hour.
In the world class Boston Marathon from which the afternoon takes its title, runners go by in a blur. Some of the competitors lodge in your memory with their outfits, outlandish or aerodynamic, an irrational smile that belies the challenge of 26.2 miles of non stop running, the sign that they’re focused on the dream of a lifetime, or a cause that motivates them to push themselves to the limit.
The same thing happens when I watch twenty plays speed past me from noon to 4 PM. Twenty plays in four hours is a personal best for me today. Every so often, just when I' m beginning to loose focus, a play grabs me by the collar and recharges my attention.
Remember how you used to play act when you were a kid? Your father’s overcoat could be a magic carpet, a teepee, or cape to make you invisible. And the cardboard carton could be a desk, a treasure chest, a brick wall? That’s how the props are here. A pair of cushiony seats that look like they were lifted from a Greyhound Bus, a tall wooden frame that is a doorway, a cart on rollers that could be a desk, an ice cream cart, a filing cabinet, or a bar and a few dinky folding chairs are about 80% of the props today. It so gloriously reminds me that all you really need to stir an audience is a good story and good acting.
The key is how the ten minutes grabs you. “When the actors are in the moment, reaching inside to breathe their characters, we in the audience go from voyeurs to participants who have affinity for the actor’s experience,” Ann Baker says. Today, Ann, with her pal Jack Welsh, are in their customary seats, last two seats in the last row of the theater. Ann’s taking notes that help her cast actors for future Boston plays. Jack, a veteran reader who’s one of many who’s helped Kate Snodgrass winnow around 400 entries to the fifty that we see today is right next to her. I don’t know how they do it but they’re here for the duration.
It’s refreshing to me that agreement on a play’s actors or story is still a subjective art form, that their assessments are not uniformly similar. Yep, As Shakespeare says, “The play’s the thing,” and it’s impossible to separate the viewer from his/her own interpretation.
The Marathon’s first hour is a terrific sampler of what’s to come: “Share This World,” (Libretto, music, Lyrics by Ronan Noon, sponsored by Emerson Stage, Directed by Rebecca Bradshaw) as much of a sweeping play as you can fit in ten minutes, all the elements of a musical with seven ensemble characters filling the back story for the two principal actors. Four plays later, a mini morality play, “One More To Go in Beantown” (by Debbie Weiss, Sponsored by New Repertory Theatre, Directed by Kate Warner) finishes the hour. We're off to a great start.
During the quick break between hour one and two, I’m horrified to see that my notes look more like a Picasso sketch on a napkin that anything useful to transcribe. Now I know why Jack sits at the end of the row. The light fixture illuminating the stairway emits just enough to permit legible note taking.
All five of the next hour’s plays are “World Premiers.” Twenty-three other world premiers follow, terrific exposure for new writers in particular. The cast members run from heavy hitters who headline local productions to first timers who might be the writer’s lawyer or plumber. I’ll tell you, if they’ve got a running chance with good writing they can make a big enough splash to be noted by people like Ann Baker and other scouts in the audience.
“A good hour,” Jack Welsh observes as he passes us his homemade ginger cookies after hour three. The three play titles beside which I draw a star (by now I’m reduced to inscribing symbols rather than writing in the margin of the program) are for “The Resurrection” (by Catherine O’Neil, sponsored by Actor’s Shakespeare Project, directed by Michael Forden Walker, acted by Steven Barkheimer and Sarah Newhouse) and “Birdbaths, Twilight” and other Sundry Items” (by March Shrader, sponsored by The Village Theater Project, directed by Barlow Anderson, acted by Jeff Mahoney and Victor Shopay) and “Uncommon Ground,” (by John Zarouf, sponsored by Hovey Players, directed by Mike Haddad, acted by Robin Gabrielli and Tracy Nygard).
“Good acting, good writing, good beats,” Jack says as “Uncommon Ground” actors take their bow.
“Their sense of timing is right on the mark,” Ann says. It occurs to me that when a play sucks me in, I hold my breath without realizing it, and experience joy, grief, hilarity, uncertainty, delight, whatever the actors are intending, and completely forget that this is play acting. For those moments I'm living in their shoes. Miraculously, this happens once, twice, sometimes three times an hour.
The sets show in spades that you don’t have to have a zillion dollar period set to tell the story. “Waiting for Godot” demonstrated that decades ago. Boston veteran actors Barkheimer and Newhouse, perched on two of those Greyhound Bus seats, a couple with a complicated past, manage in half sentences and oblique references to tell us they’re going to repair their relationship.
Jeff Mahoney and Victor Shopay as Mick and Dec, two life-long townies sitting on a park bench, delight us with an over the top play that shows the bond of friendship can overcome stereotypes even in hard nosed South Boston. “Just because we’re talking about guys who are gay doesn’t mean we’re gay, does it?” Dec says. A zigzag conversation later, a dream sequence ensues, the lighting bathes him in pink and he performs an endearing, life altering, joyous, dance to the pounding sound track of “Dancing Queen” that makes me – and the rest of the audience - want to cry and cheer at the same time with his spirited bolt from his “closet.” When the lighting reverts from a pinkish hue to daylight, Mick’s “What the hell was THAT?” is followed by, “I know, Dec, I know,” with an arm around his pal, an act of indelible friendship.
Hour four for me is like what runners call hitting the wall on the rolling hills of the Boston Marathon. My effort to categorize plays and sketches is fuzzy.
“Park and Ride,” (World premier by Michael Ennis, sponsored The Publick Theatre Boston, directed by Megan Gleeson, with Maureen Keillor, Barlow Adamson, and Marie Pollizano) is a bravura performance by Keillor and Pollizano that jump-starts me for the rest of the hour.
Imagine a scene in which a married couple (not to each other) drives to a secluded spot, and begins to wrestle off clothing for a passionate afternoon tryst. And that one of them accidentally pushes the OnStar Assist button in the process. “Mrs. Everson, is everything alright? Do you need assistance?” booms a concerned voice through the car’s speaker system. The twists and turns in the story that follows are full of speed bumps and surprises. The staging, with the couple in the car (those same bus seats) and twenty-something OnStar phone rep Becky Sharp (Pollizano) on a spotlighted raised dais in the left corner of the stage, is perfect.
Great writing, fabulous acting, a very satisfying play. This happens two or three times an hour. It reminds me I'm living in a darn good town for theater and that lots of it flies under the radar.
The Theater Marathon has the feel of a Mardi Gras parade. Like Mardi Gras, it doesn’t matter that every float dazzles. What matters is that you’re in the moment with the creators and the crowd. The energy sparkles like a handful of Mardi Gras beads arcing through the air from a float and into the eager hands of people who love and respect the tradition – and are having a hell of a good time.
Plays and Playwrights of BTM XIII (alphabetical order by playwright)
All net proceeds from ticket sales will benefit the Theatre Community Benevolent Fund which provides financial support to theatres and theatre artists in times of need.
Doll Hospital by Jeanne Beckwith
Pentagon Mashed Potatoes by Cliff Blake
Rox-N, Miss Thang by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich
Sarah in Blunderland by Robert Brustein
Mirror Touch by Michael Burgan
Late, Lamented by Lynne Cullen
The Curator by Jennifer Diamond
Boy-Man by Diane Di Ianni
The Fudgicle Thief by Bill Doncaster
Procession by William Donnelly
Wasted Kisses by Thomas G. Dunn
Park ‘N' Ride by Michael Ennis
A Ballad for Peggy by Stephen Faria
Oops by James C. Ferguson
Escape to Wonderland by Patrick Gabridge
Game On by Gary Garrison
Our Part to Change by Susan Goodell
Big Squirrel Lick by Gregory Hischak
10 Years After Paradise by Israel Horovitz
The Mouse by Colleen Hughes
Every Seven Seconds by Dan Hunter
Beep...Doot by Aaron Kagan & Seth Soulstein
Slugger by Terrence Kidd
M. Riverside by John J King
Little Boys by Margaret Lagerstedt
Crickets by Emily Kaye Lazzaro
Trust Fall by Steve Lewis
Stuck by Christopher Lockheardt
Downward Facing Dog by Melinda Lopez
Squirrelly by James McLindon
Teddy Ballgame by Caitlin Mitchell
Casting Amanda by Jack Neary
Share This World by Ronan Noone
Cat in a Box by Julian Olf
The Resurrections by Catherine M. O'Neill
Birdbaths, "Twilight", and Other Sundry Topics by Rick Park
Backfire by Leslie Powell
Those Still Living by April Ranger
Open House by Theresa Rebeck
Camberwell House by Amelia Roper
Uncommon Ground by John R. Sarrouf
Bible Study by Daniel Sauermilch
There's an App for That! by Richard Schotter
A Handy Man by March Schrader
Rogue River, Oregon by Phil Schroeder
Perfect Strangers by Peter Snoad
Welcome to the Hate Store by Jan Velco Soolman
Ms. Connections by Erin Striff
One More to Go in Beantown by Debbie Wiess
A Tall Order by Sheri Wilner