Monday, May 11, 2015

I Have Survived!

Greetings, gentle ladies and men! I sit now alone on my porch in the dead middle of night, typing this missive before my eyes pop out of their sockets from fatigue and I'm forced to finish the rest of this blog via dictation. Once again I have attended, witnessed and taken copious notes of the annual Boston Theater Marathon. And once again I found it a completely entertaining and fully worthwhile use of my time and money. It's a wonderful testament to the flourish Boston theater scene that so many theaters come together under the guidance of Kate Snodgrass to put on such a smorgasbord of new plays. I'm so glad to have gotten to see them all and I can't wait to start writing about them.

But first let's discuss the marathon as a whole this year, and then I'll quickly list my top thirteen. More complete reviews will be forthcoming.

Last year, being my first time watching the entire thing, I think I was initially blown away by the sheer variety of pieces and it was that variety that I cherished. This year, I definitely noticed a distinct pattern in the shows I preferred over others. This may be an idiosyncratic observation on my end, but I've been dwelling on it ever since I left the Calderwood Pavilion.

There was one quality that differentiated the truly excellent plays from the merely interesting: realization of character. In many of the plays I saw today, no matter how clever, funny, or interesting, many of the characters seemed to exist as plot ideas, shorthand archetypes, or simply mouth pieces with which to voice exposition or expound ideas the playwright had an interest in developing. Ten minutes isn't a lot of time, and high concept ten minute plays are often de rigueur in festivals of this nature following in the popular footsteps of Christopher Durang and David Ives.

But without exception the plays the captivated me the most this marathon were the ones that had characters I could believe in. I could easily imagine their lives both before and after the events of the ten minute drama. When they appeared they came with lived in habits of speech. Their interpersonal relationships came with unspoken but ever present history. From the subtle to the broad, the best plays featured characters who felt like well worn shoes, whereas many others featured characters constructed explicitly to tell the story being told, and only that story.

One other comment, before I get to the top thirteen: While in general the plays presented were strong and well produced, I could not help but notice that many of the productions seemed under-rehearsed. From gaping pauses between cues to vague characterizations, there was a large and obvious difference between productions which had gotten more love and those which hadn't, and frankly that was a shame. These playwrights deserve to see their shows produced to the fullness of their capacity and it makes such an obvious difference when productions aren't hampered by actors still struggling with their lines or who have benefited from little to no direction.

But those are my general caveats. All in all, I'm so glad I came and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Here are the thirteen plays from this marathon that I unequivocally love and would be more than happy to see again. In some particular order:

  • Life's Half a Glass - by Rick Park
  • Officer Friendly - by Larry Coen
  • Heartland - by Andrea Fleck Clardy
  • Holy Places - by Alan Brody
  • The Constant Variety of Sport Higgins - by Jack Neary
  • Breaking Philip Glass - by Israel Horovitz
  • Half-Time - by Richard Dresser
  • The Interview - by Steven Bogart
  • Queen of Hearts - by Gayle Hanrahan
  • Scatter - by Jeni Mahoney
  • Quack - by Patrick Gambridge
  • Swig - by Ronan Noone
  • Houston - by Michael Kimball
A slight postscript regarding the scheduling of the plays. Last year, I recall generally thinking that there was a good mix throughout the marathon of both good and mediocre plays. This year, it is interesting to point out that of my top thirteen plays, seven of them were performed in the last two hours of the marathon. Not sure if that was a conscious stacking of the deck on the part of the Boston Playwright's Theater or not. But it's a little glaring none the less. 

I'll be back with the reviews themselves, but first: a review of the first warm up full length: Constance Congdon's Hair of Dog. Stay tuned! 

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