Endurance act

Backstage at the Boston Theater Marathon
By LIZA WEISSTUCH  |  May 22, 2007
Robert D. Murphy and Kelly Lawman in Garry Garrison’s Storm on Storm

Playwright Janet Kenney was wearing a tiara and serving as a kind of royal den mother when I checked in at the Calderwood Pavilion Sunday for the Boston Theater Marathon, the ninth annual 10-hour assault of 10-minute plays. “There’s coffee, tea, water, and everything you need over there on the table, and if there’s anything you need that you don’t see, tell me and we’ll get it,” she said as she greeted actors throughout the day and collected and dispatched each hour’s batch of performers to the green room at the 50-minute mark. “Your majesty, I will go forth and conquer,” said Brian Quint of Way Theatre Artists, laying his hands on her tiara as he headed backstage with the flock of performers for the 2-to-3-pm slot.

Whether they’re actors or audience members, most folks come to the BTM — which is produced by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre as a fundraiser for the Theater Community Benevolent Fund — for just a short stretch. A few, though, are there all day: the tech folks, committed volunteers like Kenney, and BPT managing director Jacob Strautmann and artistic director Kate Snodgrass, who breezed into the check-in, grabbed a Double Stuff Oreo, and fled back to her announcer’s box in the theater. Around 1:15 pm, Strautmann dispatched a pizza order for the guys managing tech in secluded booths. “This is the most important thing we do all day. Some of those guys don’t leave the booth — except maybe for a few minutes on top of the hour for a bathroom break.”

Meanwhile, the upstairs green room — and subsequently, the stage — played host to a parade of hookers, hillbillies, hustlers, nuns, clowns, degenerates, and sundry lost, lonely souls. They carted boxes, trash bags, roller skates, rifles, faux chain mail, and tennis rackets. A few of the actors and directors delved into Kenney’s black-tie-banquet-inspired basket of moisturizers, pain relievers, and lozenges. They nibbled on Chips Ahoy and Cheez-Its and shared strategy.

“I have rules for doing the Marathon — virtually all of which I’ve broken,” confessed Vincent E. Siders, director of Ed Bullins’s Mitch’s Blues. “Two cast members, no props, and no cues. I’ve got five cast members and tons of food. I’ve only got two cues, though. I’m happy about that.”

Jeremiah Kissel was sporting Elizabethan threads and an artificially bloodstained eye. Someone nearby exclaimed, “You must be Shakespeare over there.” “Christopher Marlowe,” he corrected with a glower, clearly getting in character for his role in Robert Brustein’s Enter William Shakespeare.

While some rushed to greet old friends and colleagues, others showed up with spouses. “So often you get husband-and-wife teams because there’s not a lot of rehearsal time so they just rehearse at home,” said Kenney.

Indeed, Boston’s cornerstone theater couple, Paula Plum and Richard Snee, appeared together in Leslie Harrell Dillen’s The Red and the Blue, which was about a man and a woman meeting at their 40th high-school reunion in Dillen’s native Oklahoma City after not having seen each other since prom night. “I even did the nails,” Plum said to Dillen when they met in the audience after the show. “Did I get the accent?”

Outside, I ran into playwright John ADEkoje, who was taking a breather in the upper lobby. “I was in there for four shows in a row,” he said. “I’m doing a service out here because I don’t want to be blasé. I’ll go back in and be good and refreshed.”

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