No sooner has the final runner staggered past the Prudential than it’s time to gear up for another long-distance event: the Boston Theater Marathon, which takes place this Sunday, May 21. Now in its eighth outing, this festival of 10-minute plays features work by 51 dramatists produced by 50 New England theater companies, with every state but Vermont represented. The vignettes come from novice sprinters as well as endurance champs Israel Horovitz, Robert Brustein, and Ed Bullins.
At the starting line stands original Marathon artistic director Kate Snodgrass, who laughs lightly when asked whether it gets any easier, then replies, “Not yet,” and adds that even in its early years producing the Marathon was a substantial undertaking. “We started with 40 theater companies and gained confidence, and that increased to 50.” This year’s new participants include Alarm Clock Theatre, City Stage Company, Hovey Players, Turtle Lane Playhouse, Metro Stage Company, 3 Monkeys Theatrical Productions, and Image Theatre Company. And Merrimack Repertory Theatre returns after a long absence.
One veteran Marathon actor, Richard Snee, makes his playwriting debut with Black Irish, which will be presented by New Repertory Theatre. An encounter between a human-resources director and a male job applicant, the play, he explains, finds the director telling the man that “she’s pleased he’s the first black woman to run the department, and he spends the play convincing her he’s not black, nor a woman.”
Snee appears in Black Irish alongside his wife, noted actress Paula Plum; both have appeared in previous Marathons. “Several people describe doing the Marathon as being shot out of a cannon,” he says. “Bang, you’re there, and 10 minutes later, you’re done.”
But it takes months to get there. This season brought 300 entries to be read by a retinue of judges including Snodgrass, who reads everything. Some writers are exempted from the audition process, among them Horovitz, Brustein, Bullins, and, this year, Kirsten Greenidge.
The 2006 roster offers a backyard sinkhole, a zombie in the basement, and a 10-minute opera. But Snodgrass finds that some years offer inadvertent hemes. “One year, there were several plays about trees, or characters on top of a cliff — obvious kinds of exercises that might have been assigned in a class.” Plays that rely on elaborate sets or that “move back and forth in time and space or have too much of a set,” she adds, usually don’t make the cut. “A 10-minute play is really a beautiful little haiku. It should have one movement, one change, and then it’s over. It’s like a poem, and you want to have one thing to say and say it as succinctly as possible.”
BOSTON THEATER MARATHON | Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St, Boston | May 21 | noon–10 pm | $30 to benefit the Theatre Community Benevolent Fund | 617.933.8600
On the Web
Boston Theatre Marathon: www.bu.edu/btm