“10×10” Chases the Winter Blues Away

Barrington Stage’s 12th edition of “10×10 New Play Festival” is a charmer packed with compelling performances in intriguing situations and never less than entertaining from start to finish. 10 plays, less than 10 minutes long each by 10 different playwrights, performed by an intrepid cast of 6 and directed by 2, including the new Artistic Director, Alan Paul, making his BSC debut, and Matthew Penn.

Peggy Pharr Wilson & Skyler Gallun/David Dashiell

The evening starts on a high note with the cast parodying “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” with their own invitation to theater heaven, “C’mon, We’re Missing the Show” in “Opening” written by cast member Matt Neely. This leads to the introduction of Mr. Paul with a curtain speech that entices us with this summer’s offerings of Julianne Boyd directing the modern Irish classic “Faith Healer,” major works by BSC Associate Artists William Finn and Mark St. Germain and his own direction of “Cabaret” which will kick off the summer season on the main stage in June.

Matt Neely, Camille Upshaw, Robert Zukerman, Sky Marie, Peggy Pharr Wilson & Skyler Gallun/David Dashiell

Meanwhile, we are stuck in February with frigid temperatures, ice on the sidewalks, and 10 short plays to divert and enchant us. The short plays run the gamut from first-date complications (“A Date” by Diane Metzger) to a surprisingly moving end-of-life decision (“If I Go First” By Michael Brady). There’s a disastrous children’s party where a pigeon explodes out of a magician’s hat (“Real Magic” by Brent Askari, a business start-up that needs to remember the essentials (“Piece of Cake” by Allie Costa), and a romantic night planned in a haunted hotel where “If we survive the night, there’s free breakfast.” That’s “The Haunting Package” by Deirdre Girard.

All the actors have not just a moment to shine but several of them. My favorites were Matt Neely hysterically coming apart on a metaphysical train ride to New Haven in “All Aboard” by Michael Burgan and Camille Upshaw inspires as Toni Stone in an Indianapolis Clowns uniform (costumes by Peggy Walsh). At the same time, little leaguer Skyler Gallun pulls on your heartstrings as a boy who would much rather be singing along to Gwen Verdon’s “Damn Yankees” tracks than playing “Right Field of Dreams,” in the play by Stephen Kaplan. He admits to having posters of the right fielders Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente up in his bedroom, but it’s not for their athletic fielding. Robert Zukerman makes a fine Norman Rockwell in “Anything You Want” by Arlene Jaffe opposite Sky Marie as a bold student and an even better loving husband, Henry, in “If I Go First.”

Skyler Gallun/David Dashiell

And Peggy Pharr Wilson shines in, well, everything she touches. She rocks “Gimme Shelter” by Robert Weibezahl, where she reveals her residence at Geezer Acres retirement community as the rock chick she used to be-sleeping with Jagger and writing Rolling Stone cover stories. Her mom is the perfect counterpoint to the dating translator in “A Date,” she scores again as the over-caffeinated, physics-spouting conductor in “All Aboard!” and most affectingly in “If I Go First,” where she stands firm against any more chemo treatments, “I want to keep what little hair I have left.” In her 12th “10×10,” she displays her mastery of the form, inspiring belly laughs and tears stealthily with great economy of gesture, dialogue, and stage time.

Robert Zukerman & Sky Marie/David Dashiell

You might have a hard time picking favorites as well, with only “The Moon is Full of It” by Jim Moss leaving me cold. I was in the minority with that opinion at the performance I attended, judging by the crowd’s reaction. Grab what tickets are left as “10×10” sold out most of its performances this week and has extended through 3/12.

Tickets: barringtonstageco.org

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