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10x10 at Barrington Stage is winter warming

Pictured: Sky Marie, Matt Neely and Skyler Gallun
David Dashiell
Photo courtesy of Barrington Stage Company
Pictured: Sky Marie, Matt Neely and Skyler Gallun

I cannot think of a more pleasant way to spend a winter day than attending Barrington Stage Company’s 10x10 New Play Festival.

If offered in the summer it would still be an enjoyable experience worth attending. At this time of year it’s a tonic from the dreariness that hits you a month before spring arrives.

10x10 is ten plays that are ten-minutes long. With an intermission, it runs about two hours. Most plays are light-hearted, focusing on a single theme and performed by a cast ranging from two to six actors. They each perform several plays over the course of the production. They are as good as is the material.

Almost all touch on serious themes, but none are heavy-handed or self-important. It’s the ideal blending of humor providing insight on subjects we often find in life.

As an example, the opening piece, “Right Field of Dreams” by Stephen Kaplan, is about a 10-year old boy on a baseball field. For those old enough to remember sandlot baseball games, right field is where you tried to hide your most inept player. Tim realizes why he’s there and fears he will make an error and lose the game, embarrassing himself and his coach, who is also his father.

The ghost of Toni Stone, a female African-American woman who actually played in the Negro Leagues, appears to help him though his doubts. She does even more. It’s charming, funny and wise.

On the subject of ineptitude, another play “Real Magic’ by Brent Askari deals with a self-taught, amateur magician whose failure while performing a pigeon trick terrifies his young audience. In “The Haunting Package” by Deidre Girard a couple who get their thrills by ghost hunting deliberately spend a night in a haunted hotel room. It’s not what they expected.

“A Date” by Diana Metzger gets its fun from imagining a first date where each of the participants bring their own dating counselor to stop them from making errors.

Of local interest is “Anything You Want”. It tracks a student trying to get the camera-shy painter-illustrator Norman Rockwell to pose for a photo in his Stockbridge , MA studio.

Perhaps the most complex play is the finale “All Aboard” by Michael Burgan. It’s a piece about time, space, and simultaneously existing universes. Mostly it shows how confusingly comic it can be when forced to confront alternative theories about reality.

The most serious piece is “If I Go First” by Jim Moss. It deals with an older couple as a wife has to convince her husband of many decades that he has to accept her entering a hospice for the dying.

Most 10-minute plays are essentially riffs on a theme. They work with undeveloped characters who are funny because of their futility. “If I Go First” seems a complete play. You know the characters, understand their plight and can envision their future. In 10-minutes you experience humor based on fear of loss. Most of all, you share the love of the couple.

The acting is wonderful. The always delightful Peggy Pharr Wilson, who has appeared in every 10x10 produced at BSC, scores with her every interpretive role. Matt Neely, who is in his 10th 10x10, is a funny actor who can also get his characters to tug on your heart. And thanks to Matt for the original opening mini-musical.

Of the four new performers, Skyler Gallun is a gifted comic actor. His bio shows him as experienced in a large number of Shakespeare’s plays. Here’s hoping we see more of him this summer.

Robert Zukerman is the ideal grouchy, older man. Whether its as a distanced father or a fragile husband in denial, the actor gets chuckles while never demeaning his character. He’s also great as Norman Rockwell.

Sky Marie is a versatile actor who brings charm to a character whether she’s a determined student, a long lost girlfriend or a strong-willed wife. She also knows how to hold for a joke line.

Camille Upshaw is equally as good, as she plays mostly self-assured women. She’s always able to add a vulnerable desire to be loved in her performance, but she makes it clear it has to be on her terms.

Direction is by 10x10 regular Matthew Penn and BSC’s new artistic director, Alan Paul, each guiding five plays. Their work is seamless, clever and brilliantly finds comedy in even the most poignant moment. Simple set changes are brilliantly unobtrusive and keeps the production flowing.

Because of their skill and insight you will laugh inside the theater and think about what you experienced on the ride home.

10x10 continues at the St. Germain Stage in Pittsfield, MA through Sunday March 12. For tickets and information go to barringtonstageco.org or call 413-236—8888.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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