Kate Snodgrass had a splendid idea, and she and the generous allies she recruited to help her made that idea into a reality that may change the way Boston thinks about theatre. Snodgrass set out to prove to Boston that it is blessed with an abundance of talented playwrights-- something that no reader of the local press or subscriber to the seasons of local Equity houses would ever guess. Her idea was a Theater Marathon, to be for local writers what the fabled Boston Marathon is for runners: an opportunity to demonstrate their ability in a celebratory mix of the world class and as many of the qualified as can be shoehorned into the time and space available. The time would be from noon to ten pm on April 18th, the Sunday before the runners' Marathon Monday, and the place would be the runners' own Commonwealth Avenue-- famous for Heartbreak Hill: not quite so well known as the site of Boston Playwrights Theatre. Miraculously, the event-- 40 ten minute one act plays performed twice each in 10 hours, which must have been a logistical nightmare to rehearse and tech-- came off without a hitch. The appreciative audiences were stuffed with actors, producers and directors. Many of these creative people had never before seen each other's work-- keeping a theatre alive in Boston requires a "nose to your own grindstone" obsession that makes it hard to take time out to see what your neighbor is up to next door. Of course, the occasion was ripe for invidious comparison: Snodgrass invited students and amateurs as well as Equity pros to take part. But the work on stage was mostly of very high quality, and even what missed the mark was enjoyable-- filled with pride in craft and joy in performance and bright warming swathes of local color. Hooray for the Home Team!
Snodgrass is one of the few people in Boston who is a position to judge the depth of the local talent pool. Reading new plays is her Day Job, and hundreds of local actors have auditioned for or performed in the readings and workshops that she has been responsible for as producing director of the Playwrights Theatre at Boston University, a facility run in conjunction with the MFA playwriting program at BU headed by Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott. The BU facility has two efficient black box theaters which are primarily used by students to see what their work looks like when it is up on its feet. However, Snodgrass has also reached out to the greater Boston theatre community, first by instituting a staged reading series for alumnae of BU, and then by making the facility available to other worthy organizations and individuals whenever possible. The worthy Nora Theatre, evicted from its home at the Harvard Union, has been able to mount two abbreviated seasons at Playwrights while it is searching for permanent quarters. The winning script from the 1998 Gassner playwriting contest, adopted Bostonian Bill Lattanzi's "La Vita Clare", was given a bang-up staged reading at BPT before a SRO audience of enthusiasts. Playwrights' Platform benefited from BPT hospitality when a storm blew out the lights at PP's home base, Mass College of Art. Connections like those are what made possible the beauty part of Snodgrass' scheme: each of the forty scripts selected for the Marathon was paired up with a local theatre that "volunteered" to take on the job of producing it: direction, design, casting, and rehearsal. Some of the better known writers, like David Mamet and Ed Bullins, came pre paired with a local theatre that was already associated with their work. But for the rest, it was a golden opportunity for a writer and a theatre to get to know one another. The Fortunate Forty whose plays were picked for inclusion are Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro, Michael Bettencourt, Barbara Blatner, Barry Brodsky, Alan Brody, Robert Brustein, Ed Bullins, Constance Congdon, William Cunningham, Talaya Delaney, William Donnelly, Leslie Epstein, Deborah Lake Fortson, Chapin Garner, David Valdes Greenwood, Laura Harrington, Israel Horovitz, Dan Hunter, Janet Kenney, Michael Kosarin, Bill Lattanzi, Russell Lees, Jon Lipsky, Melinda Lopez, David Mamet, Renita Martin, Amy Merrill, Andy Mitton, Michael Moss, Jack Neary, Aidan Parkinson, Payne Ratner, Theresa Rebeck, Lois Roach, M. Lynda Robinson, Richard Schotter, Katherine Snodgrass, Brandon Toropov, Sinan Unel, Bruce Ward and Tug Yourgrau.
The proof of the pudding opened promptly at noon in each of the two studio theatres, and closed, according to report, at exactly 9:59 pm, 80 performances later. I didn't see all the plays, and therefore can't review the event properly. (I had to leave at 7:20 in order to participate in a staged reading of yet another new script about a mile away. I also slipped out for a few minutes mid afternoon to have a bite to eat and rest my overloaded senses.) But I saw thirty plays, and the productions I saw were impressive as well as entertaining. There were a variety of genres represented in miniature, yet somehow within the ten minute format the authors gave good actors plenty of scope to strut their stuff. Donating their talents to these plays, and to the Boston Theatre Benevolent Fund, were some of Boston's best actors: and some of them gave the best performances I have ever seen them give. Favorite moments included: Big huggable teddy bear Michael Nurse shedding his clothes but not his dignity in Barry Brodsky's painfully funny essay on race and class perception, "The Twelve Forty". Ken Baltin's outrageously erotic delivery of "Testimony", in William Donnelly's hot topic version of what the Starr Chamber REALLY wanted to hear from Our Willy. M. Lynda Robinson and David Ian's pillow talk body language in Robinson's "Men Are from Milwaukee, Women Are from Phoenix". Ann Marie Cusson, so moving in the New Rep's "Moon for the Misbegotten" last season, weighing in with another, very different, Big Tough Woman as the boss carpenter in Melinda Lopez's "The Lesson". The venerable Miriam Varon (with James Bodge) as a German mother circa 1950 visiting her son and daughter-in-law in Iowa in Talaya Derlany's "Fortunas", and (with Daniel Gidron) as a Dutch mother on the brink of death circa 1999 in Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro's "Amsterdam". Kippy Goldfarb as the ghost-morphing stewardess in Brian Toropov's grief-splintered "Chance of Your Life". Alvin Epstein as Buster Keaton in Robert Brustein's "Poker Face". And friends tell me that I missed the very best part of all-- not just the terrific plays that were scheduled into the last hours, but a post show Party so full of demotic mirth and merriment that it was hard to believe it was taking place in the staid and stratified City of the Bean and the Cod. 1999's was optimistically advertised as the First Annual Boston Theater Marathon. I can hardly wait for next years!
This seems to be the cue for a plug. If you wish that you had seen the
Marathon, and don't want to wait a whole year for another chance to see the massed
work of a bunch of Boston based writers, you have an opportunity at hand to take
in the oldest Establish Permanent Floating Annual Boston Festival of New Plays--
produced June 10-19 by Playwrights' Platform at Massachusetts College of Art.
The Platform is a writer's co-op that has been around since the early seventies,
when I joined it. Depending on which board member's memory is to be trusted, 1999
marks either the 27th or 28th Annual Festival presenting a selection of
work from writers currently active in the group. (Thirteen of the authors who
had plays in the Marathon are or were Platform members, and two of them have work
in this upcoming Festival). The program will feature 23 performances of
14 plays spread out over 6 evenings. A short one act of mine, "Autumn Leaves",
is on the "A" bill, and I'm directing a longer one, Miriam D'Amato's "A Noodle
Kugel for Company". Details and the festival schedule are on the Platform's
Go to G.L.Horton's Web Page
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