Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Boston THEATRE Marathon"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Will Stackman


The Boston THEATRE Marathon"

Reviewed by Will Stackman

It takes a while to sort out impressions from ten hours immersion in fifty short plays. There's not much to add to Larry's Herculean review, but a few minor corrections and questions are in order. There was general agreement that the Fourth Annual Boston Theatre Marathon reached a generally higher standard than past efforts, and that the crew responded with a smooth alacrity that appeared effortless to the challenge of an extra play every hour. The 100 plus actors involved, some like Nate McIntyre in three separate productions, romped through the day. Thus it was not surprising that the generally enthusiastic audience was wildly supportive at times, to the consternation of some critics who don't understand that the theatre supports its own, appreciates honest effort, and finds virtue in "going for it", whatever the result. There's always next time on the living stage.

First, to fill in a couple of Larry's blanks slightly, Susan Leonard's "Sunday Morning", about the agony and helpless guilt involved in passing on a genetic defect. had the memorable line: "if nobody's born, nobody dies." Susanna Railli's "Gone Stone Cold", a riveting Alan Bennett-like monodrama during which a woman recounts the death of her husband. He went to pick up a knapsack which turned out to be a terrorist bomb. No politics, just tragedy. The moment at the end revealing that the woman has been rehearsing this description prior to an interview was probably unneccessary, but Jane Staab's charcaterization was memorable even at this event, where the five solo performances stood out.

No one should expect that Ed Bullin's contribution this year might not be part of a larger work. His canvases are always broad and his contributions to past Marathons have been sections of full length plays. "That Day" was interesting in the possibilities it raised for a longer work while making a strong statement about complex emotional response to tragedy.

Deborah Lake Fortson's "Dear Nell" will probably grow up to be a slightly longer more complex piece. The central problem really involves society, The madman who has been attacking Nell (Nancy E, Carrol, who played the role speaking both English and Dutch) is a neighbor, a certified lunatic whose freedom the liberal authorities value more than the safety of the women who live next door. Sound like a modern urban problem?

Andy Mitton's "What They Cast Down", which was truly strong stuff, would be more powerful with complex light and sound, and possibly projections. Effects might accomplish the intended distancing the patently symbolic Clown didn't achieve. This one deserves more work; moreover, Jay Piscapo and Shannon Campbell turned in two of the strongest performances of the day

There's a very fine line between sketch comedy and humorous one-act plays. Fortunately, the BTM admits both, and sometimes you get both at the same time. Basically a sketch aims towards a punchline and doesn't worry about the action. Go for both and you get Jerry Bisantz's "Romance 101", which he may be sorry he wrote. If this one gets into print, theatre groups across the country will make it a standard.

One of the joys of the Marathon is seeing Boston actors strut their stuff. One of the frustrations of reviewing is not being able to mention them all, let alone say something revelatory about their performances. Possible improvements for next year's event (the submission deadline is Nov. 15th, 2002) would be to post headshots or cast photos with bios in the lobby and archive the Festival Program onto the Website. Any performer, techie, or director who submits a 250 word bio (with contact info) as a digital text file should be included in an attached data-base file. Not a lot of effort to reward the tremendous contribution these folks make to the event, IMHO

A few performances not already mentioned stand out: listed in order seen. Karen MacDonald, first as her signature MM in Brustein's unfortunately titled sketch "Anchorbimbo", (ably supported by Will Lebow as Gen. Tommy Franks), but even better opposite Michael Hammond in his mood piece about an erotic nightlight. Helen McElwain gave two spirited comic performances, as usual on the verge of a theatrical epiphany (or some sort of mayhem), in "More Than What" and "House / Wife". Eliza Rose Fichter, back in the Marathon again for another solo, played another chilling child. And her mother, Debra Wise, was over the top wrapped in curtains as the House opposite McElwain and McIntyre. John Davin's "Scarecrow" opposite Nate McIntyre was audacious and effecctive, even if the script was somewhat convoluted.

John Kuntz's solo mystery combined multiple characterizations, peculiar sound effects, and name dropping in a tour de farce (Sorry, couldn't resist.) The star of his more serious comedy this past winter, Paula Plum, was truly in her element as she took over the stage to explain, in Theresa Rebeck's words, just where the Vermeer stolen from the Gardner has gotten to, and more importantly, what "Art Appreciation" really means. And since, 9/11/2001 was two months or so before last year's submission deadline, references to that fatal day - for once the proper use of that cliche - were to be expected. Israel Horowitz's piece from "Three Days in Paradise" as performed by Ken Baltin was about as direct a response as could be performed. It will be interesting to see if pieces taking a longer view show up at the next BTM.

The best response to the enthusiasm generated by this event is not to wait a year. Playwrights' Platform, whose members were involved in several shows, has its Summer Short Play festival coming up in June, where G.L. Horton & Robert Bonnato will remount their minature comic opera "Lullaby" and Ronan Noone's "The Mutton Bandit Molloy" will be seen again in the company of other works at various stages of development. There'll be short works done later in the summer at the Hovey; efforts next fall at the Theatre Coop on Broadway in Somerville, and Acme Theatre's New Works next winter in Maynard. Other companies, like Centastage -"The Xmas Files"- or Company One -"Rash Acts"- now at the Leland Center/BCA, do shows featuring short theatrical forms. The one act is not just for high-school drama competitions any more.
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Will Stackman


"The Boston THEATRE Marathon" (14 April only)
BOSTON PLAYWRIGHTS' THEATRE
949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON MA
1 (617) 353-5899

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