Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 25, 2018

10X10 New Play Festival

Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
through March 4, 2018
by Shera Cohen

The numbers add up well for the 7th annual “10X10 New Play Festival” as 6 actors portray over 20 roles in 10 plays (each 10 minutes in length) penned by 10 playwrights under the astute direction of 2 creative professionals. Although I don’t know the number of seats at Barrington’s St. Germain Stage, the plays hosted a full house for its opening performance.

While the plays are short, each is a complete full story with a beginning and end. Other common denominators include: small casts, very little staging, few props, and costumes pretty much off the rack (except for one). Judiciously connecting these “playettes” (it’s fun to coin a word) are music and sound effects. Segues are filled with ideally selected and arranged well-known songs or improv jazz. In other words, it’s a fast afternoon at the theatre.

Given one week to rehearse these 10 plays, the result is perfectly charming. Most stories are comic, featuring only two characters. Each actor depicts roles in four or five plays. These skilled actors seem to turn on an internal switch as they change from a precocious middle-schooler to the Virgin Mary, in one example. Kudos to the playwrights who add elements of poignancy into the comedies and humor into the tragedies. In the mix is one laugh-out-loud slapstick, with no dialogue, titled “The Fly.”

Isn’t it wonderful for Barrington Stage to highlight the works of so many writers? Some playettes work better than others, but remember than none are destined for Tony Awards, and are only 10 minutes long. My favorites include: “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” depicting the awkwardness of a young teen couple wannabe; “Perspective,” taking the subjects off a Michelangelo-type canvas, giving them New York accents and contemporary swagger, and dissing Mona Lisa’s obviously fake smile; and “The Secret to a Healthy Relationship,” demonstrating how a romance can go awry in a matter of minutes.

This exciting and hugely successful Barrington Stage program is a significant component of Pittsfield’s 10X10 Upstreet Arts Festival which also features art exhibits, films, museum activities, poetry, and dance. Pittsfield, like many middle-sized somewhat snow-covered New England cities is “open” to visitors seeking arts and culture in the off-season.