If the cabin fever that tends to hit hardest in February has you in its grip, there is a two-hour remedy waiting for you at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass. Their production of “10 X 10”, which consists of ten 10-minute plays is pure escapism fun.
If you don’t smile through most of the comedic plays. then you are doomed to suffer with what Shakespeare called, “the winter of our discontent.”
Each play is fun and filled with enormous amounts of cleverness. There is not a play that falls on its face, while many soar. One delight alone is to see how a bright writer can create so much laughter in a 10-minute segment. Note to Saturday Night Live – please hire these writers.
Besides the smart, witty writing, the play uses six extremely talented actors who are almost shape-shifters in their ability to change personalities. I, for one, will be scouring future playbills for the names of Kenneth Tigar, Keri Safran, Peggy Pharr Wilson, Maya Loren Jackson, Peter Macklin and Doug Harris. They are a guarantee of quality, and I would love to see them in a full-length play that would better showcase their talents.
At Barrington Stage, most of their skills are devoted to comedy. The majority of the work is fluff, but it is fluff that has a contemporary feel. For example, “Digital Detox,” written by Cynthia Arsenault, is a bit that has two couples going through therapy for help for their digital device dependency.
However, amongst the light and frothy, there are a few that try to address more serious subjects. Actually, their inclusion is welcome as even a meal consisting of two hours of only dessert can become tedious.
The mood of the night is set quickly. The entire cast comes out and sings a parody to “What Ain’t We Got?” from South Pacific. Instead of the answer being “dames,” the Matt Neely crafted piece changes the answer to “fun”. Adding to the wink, wink factor is “South Pacific” is Barrington Stage’s opening musical this year.
This musical relaxer is quickly followed by more self-effacing humor as a couple of actors are being auditioned for the new hottest trend in theater. It seems that in Connie Shindewolf’s satire, the 10-minute play has fallen out of fashion and been replaced by the 5-second play. At an upcoming festival some 1600 of which will be offered in a single night and 500 directors are in the audience picking their casts.
Of the 10, it’s difficult to pick my favorite piece, as each is clever and delightfully performed. If you are of a certain age you might especially enjoy “Stay Please,” written by Jessica Provenz, where at a retirement village a woman takes desperate measures to force the most eligible bachelor in the Village to try her lasagna.
Those who have experienced doubt just before marriage might appreciate Scott Mullen’s “Jill Takes a Leap.” This is, by the way, a play which best mixes a serious theme with outrageous comic characters. And any lover of theater will enjoy Ann Marie Shea’s “With Improvements by the Actors,” which has two bit players improve the opening to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
There is a play about a man searching for a robot to replace his dead wife, which is given a delicious twist by Erin Osgood and a male-female role reversal piece by Rachel Bublitz, that neuters the comedy with some heavy-handed commentary.
Thankfully, the serious plays, which touch on contemporary social issues, are more thoughtful than they are didactic. “Closing Doors” by John Minigan address the dilemma of school shutdowns where school policy interferes with human intuitiveness. And perhaps the most touching of all is “Are You One of those Robots?” by Deirdre Girard in which a coldly efficient operator of a suicide hotline comes face to face with the reality of a caller.
Perhaps the funniest play of all is “Oy Vey Maria,” in which Mark Harvey Levine creates a comic skit about a Jewish mother reacting badly about being ignored at the birth of her grandson, Jesus. It’s charming, funny and very familiar. It is, for about 7 or 8 of its 10 minutes, hilarious comedy. But after a short time it becomes forced and loses its originality.
Indeed, “Oy Vey Maria” is very much like the entire 10 X 10 Festival where the comedy doesn’t always sustain itself throughout the 10 plays. However, even on a bright sunny July day, I would settle for 8 funny minutes out of every 10. In February it’s a gift to be treasured.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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