The Boston Phoenix
January 14 - 21, 1999

[Dance Reviews]

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Take 10

State of the Art

by Anne Marie Donahue

State of the Art Playlet? Petit play? Playbite? Whatever you call it, the little play is getting big. With its 10th-anniversary NeWorks Festival, which features 20 10-minute plays, New Theatre joins the quickie craze sparked by the Actors Theatre of Louisville and several New York companies. And some of the festival's playwrights are already in training for the first Boston Theater Marathon, a 10-hour extravaganza of 10-minute plays that's slated for the Boston Playwrights' Theatre on April 18, the day before the Boston Marathon.

According to New Theatre artistic director Rick DesRochers, less is more in more ways than one. "I wanted to include as many writers as possible this year," he says, noting that most of the pieces are by veterans of previous NeWorks festivals. "It's a great forum for playwrights. They get their work out there, but there's not a lot of angst about it." And brevity also benefits the audience, which is exposed to a diversity of writers and styles without investing a lot of time.

"With 20 plays," DesRochers adds, "the audience gets to see a wide variety of theater. I hope we can help people realize that plays aren't necessarily one thing or the other. From family dramas to abstract-expressionist performance pieces, there's a whole gamut of ideas and ways of creating theater, and they aren't always what you might expect. I want people to know that there are all kinds of things happening, and they're happening now." With short pieces, he points out, playgoers are more willing to take risks, knowing that "if it's not the greatest thing in the world, at least it's over in 10 minutes."

The first weekend's program kicks off with a play by a teenage neophyte and ends with one by a former Bostonian who's hit the big time. Although Taavo Smith is still in high school, DesRochers says the young dramatist "has a natural ability to write funny and fun dialogue. His piece, The Tourist Trap, is really hilarious." At the other end of the spectrum, Theresa Rebeck, who studied at BU, has written for film and for television, including NYPD Blue. Her latest play, Abstract Expression, was recently produced by New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, which also staged Sunday on the Rocks, an early work that the New Theatre produced 10 years ago. Late Arrival, Rebeck's contribution to this year's festival, "is done in a Pinter sort of style," says DesRochers. "Basically, it's about two sisters caught in a power struggle. One wants the other to do her dirty work for her, but she doesn't come out and say it. They kind of play around the subject, but it comes down to control."

Initially, DesRochers hesitated to ask Rebeck for a new play. "I thought she'd be hard to access now. But she was very forthcoming about the project. And she was very happy that, after 10 years, we're still plugging away at it, still trying to get writers like herself into the mainstream."

New Theatre's 10th Anniversary NeWorks Festival runs January 15 through 30 at the Boston Center for the Arts. For tickets and information, call 426-0320.

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