State of the Art
by Anne Marie Donahue
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.