Monday, May 23, 2011

Boston Theater Marathon XIII report

I'm still tired after yesterday's Boston Theater Marathon.  You'd think I'd run an actual marathon, rather sit in a dark theatre for 10 hours watching 50 ten-minute plays.  This year, I had my 16-year-old daughter, Kira, in tow, and we were also joined by Alexa Mavromatis (a fellow Rhombus playwright), for the entire event.  We carefully packed pb&j, nuts, chips, water, and a pound of dark chocolate to help us remain in our seats for an entire day (bathroom breaks excepted). 

The time passes a lot faster that you might expect.  Every hour, there are five new plays, each in a different author's voice, produced by a different theatre company with a unique cast (though there is some overlap--my friend Bob Murphy was in three Marathon plays).

There is, as you would expect, usually a pretty big mix of plays, some that I like and some that I don't, a couple favorites and a couple dogs.  I would say that this year seemed to be the strongest set of plays I can remember.  There were no plays or productions that I thought were absolutely terrible (and let's face it, in 50 plays, you expect something that just won't sit right), and there was a stretch from 2pm - 5pm, that I thought was the best stretch of ten-minute plays I'd seen strung together for a long time, just winner after winner.

Some of my favorite plays of the day included:
  • Slugger by Terrence Kidd about an oddly upbeat, slightly crazed woman, with desire for a little payback.  It featured a fantastic performance by Jessica Webb.  
  • Rick Parks' Birdbaths, "Twilight" and Other Sundry Items, which I'd seen before at the T Plays, was just as delightful in this subsequent production.  
  • Trust Fall by Steve Lewis, was zany and bright and a provided great spark of energy to start the third hour.  Brain surgery with a plastic knife has never been so funny.  Director Vincent Ularich got stellar performances by two of my favorite Boston actors, Becca Lewis and Bob Murphy.
  • Speaking of Boston actors, Michael Ennis' play, Park N' Ride, got a scene stealing performance from Marie Polizzano, who you might remember from the Huntington's Cirlce, Mirror, Transformation (as well as strong performances from Barlow Adamson and Maureen Keiller).
  • My daughter and I both had great fondness for the only one-woman show of the evening, Camberwell House by Amelia Roper.
  • In A Tall Order, Sheri Wilner's very sharp play, about dating and the possible consequences of ordering from the menu on a date, got another terrific performance from Jessica Webb.
  • I was pleased to see strong physical humor in Christopher Lockheardt's play, Stuck, produced by New Exhibition Room, both Alejandro Simoes and Hannah Husband were great fun to watch.  They're a company that really interests me now that I've seen a couple of their shows.
  • I'm a sucker for math plays or plays about mathematicians, so Erin Striff's Ms. Connections made me happy.
And there were plenty of other good scripts and performances.

Oh, yeah, I had a play in there, too.  Escape to Wonderland was in the 6-7pm hour, and we got vibrant performances from Meredith Stypinski and Allison Vanouse.  I saw them on Friday night, in Hotel Cassiopeia, and could definitely see how their work together on that play helped boost their work in my play--just by virtue of already knowing each other so well.  Director Jeff Mosser did a great job of directing the action so it was clear and energetic.  I couldn't have asked for a better production of the play.  (And hope to work with this bunch of folks again soon.)

This Marathon offered a few less than the usual number of Red Sox plays and references, though there were still a few, of course.  We had a lot of plays this year about aging and, as might be expected, a fair number about dating and first meetings.  Not very many political plays, which is too bad, because I'm a fan of political theatre, though they're not always easy to manage in a festival setting.

Though the scripts and productions are always of high quality, I always long for a better use of the theatrical space.  (See my web post from 2009--An Open Challenge to Playwrights Writing for the Marathon.)  The super constricted tech time and set change set creates high barriers to interesting design for Marathon shows, but I'm always dying to see more shows making use of movement, dance, color, sound, music.  We only had one musical this year, plus two other plays in which music played a role in the narrative.  I'd love to see more productions finding ways to fully inhabit the space available and giving audiences something bright and interesting to watch. 

Thanks, as always, to Kate, Marc, Jake, Michael, and everyone at BPT and the BCA for keeping this important theatrical event not just going, but thriving.  I was grateful to be part of it this year and hope to be involved again.  Can't wait to see BTM XIV next year!


Lediana Paja said...

According to me there were a lot of plays that I didn't enjoy. Specially those with bad words. I doubt they could be called art. Most of them looked to me as cliche.Threats that have been used so often. I didn't found myself comfortable even though I saw EVERY performance. Yes, some (not more than 10) were stunning and great performances given by the actors. I read around 30 plays this year and I was very surprised how some of the plays that were looking so great, fresh,and coming up with new ideas were not in the marathon.
According to me, the actors were great. They did an extremely great work and they made everyone enjoy a piece, however it was...

Best Regards,
Lediana Stillo

Patrick Gabridge said...

Thanks for the comment. Everyone has their own taste, of course.

Terry said...

Patrick - thanks for the shout out for my play, Slugger. Bad words ( and worse behavior) and all, you managed to see the play is upbeat. You're right too, both Jessica Webb and Jackie Davis were fantastic. The best part of writing plays for me is seeing them come alive with great direction and great acting. Kudos to you for being a real marathon man. I could only manage from noon to six... so I missed a bunch. That won't happen again, it really is such a great day for Boston theater.

Brent said...

This was my first year being involved with the Theatre Marathon, I was the lighting designer on the project. I think it would be great to see companies utilize more of the space. There was an amazing energy in the space on the day of the event. During the week leading up to the marathon it was a lot of fun to work with all of the companies putting together their ideas about what the play was and how they wanted to present it.

Seeing so many of the theatre community come out and take part in this event was fantastic. The spirit of the marathon allows the theatre community to come together, try out new ideas, and celebrate theatre. I can't wait to be a part of next years marathon.

Patrick Gabridge said...

Glad you commented, Brent. It'd be fun to talk with you more about ways that Marathon companies could better understand how to make the most of the resources that are available to them. Obviously, designing for the Marathon is awfully tricky, given the large number of shows--but there might be other ways we can improve on specific design points.