Theater Marathon runs gamut of drama
For theater gluttons, last Sunday's 10-hour Boston Theater Marathon - the 10th such annual event benefiting the Theatre Community Benevolent Fund - presented the usual groaning board of dramatic delights: 50 10-minute plays (nearly all world premieres) by playwrights heralded and unknown, mounted by companies ranging from established troupes to fringe, community, and college groups. It was sometimes hard to tell the pros from the up-and-comers, and juxtaposed against the joy of seeing familiar actors in this setting was the thrill of scouting new talent.
In a sprint, humor tends to work better than drama, and several of this year's top contenders took the world of theater itself as a topic. Following a Ryan Landry formula familiar to fans of the Gold Dust Orphans, playwright/actor John Kuntz grafted a classic, the movie "All About Eve," onto a disparate setting: a second-grade nativity pageant. The very clever "All About Christmas Eve" starred a spot-on Julie Perkins as a junior Margo (the Bette Davis role) with Kuntz himself as Eve, her underhanded admirer. Rick Park (who also had a play in the Marathon and is currently appearing as a misgendered Lion in Landry's "Whizzin' ") made a marvelously urbane Addison DeWitt, even when slurping from a juice box.
Jack Neary's curtain-closer, starring Ellen Colton and Bobbie Steinbach as a pair of theater survivors sparring for roles, has become something of a Theater Marathon tradition (a full-length play may be in the works). In this third installment, "The Grand Scheme," set in an audition anteroom, the two old pros exchange barbs and faux flattery as each shows off her "definitive reading" of a grandly schlocky script.
Relative youngsters Georgia Lyman and Angie Jepson (who recently shone in "The Scene" and "The Little Dog Laughed," respectively) wrote their own physicalized version of actress-on-actress action. The hilarious "Fight Test" takes the form of a stage-fight demo - based on the Helena-and-Hermia scene from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" - in which the rival thespians' real-life combativeness gets the upper hand.
Cafe encounters are a staple of the short form. Monica Raymond's "Novices," which was part of Centastage's "Plays on Tap" program this winter, benefited from recasting in an Actors' Shakespeare Project rendition: Molly Schreiber was just right as an over-controlling would-be submissive whose e-mail hookup, played charmingly by Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, turns out to be a romantic. In Katherine Roscher's surprisingly perceptive (she's only 20!) playlet "The Depth of Perception," Penny Benson from the Turtle Lane Playhouse pumped unexpected sweetness, via a piping Carol Kane voice, into the role of a clear-eyed prostitute; she was well matched by Jonathan Popp (currently appearing in SpeakEasy Stage Company's "The History Boys") as a disaffected spouse.
Marital strife? Plenty of it - but none funnier than Maurice Parent in Payne Ratner's "Outed," as a husband who coolly explains away reports passed along by his wife (Jessica Webb) that he was spotted in flagrante with both the pizza boy and the plumber. Betrayal-wise, Patrick Gabridge's "Counting Rita" (presented by the Mill 6 Theatre Collaborative) adds a smart new wrinkle: Sarah (feisty Elaine Theodore), suspecting that her friend Rita (Julie Jirousek) may be poaching, brings a mechanical counter to their tete-a-tete. The device and its disconcerting clicks exert the desired effect.
Charles Addams-ish deviations on the everyday were also reliably effective, as in Michael J. Grady's "Open House," presented by Our Place Theatre Project (something wicked lurks underfoot) and Gregory Hischak's "Poor Shem" by Theatre on Fire (something gruesome lurks in the copier). And yet a perfectly straightforward slice of life, such as the Freudian-embroidered card game portrayed in Christopher Lockheardt's "Helluva Poker Face" (Hovey Players), could prove a surprise treat.
This year, as in years past, there were simply too many goodies on offer to begin to do the full array justice. The best thing you can do is mark your calendar now for next May's feast.