A gunshot is heard and an African American in a black, hooded sweatshirt stands silently, head bowed. He is not yet 17. Suddenly he erupts with life, courting someone unseen. We think it's a woman -- a woman whom his mother has warned him against. He's talking a blue streak and it's hard to catch every word in his music-like geyser of speech, but we feel the power of his emotions -- one instant a child's feelings, the next instant a man's, then a child's again. By the end, we realize that something more sinister than a person is the object of his longing.
Such moments are sufficient reward for the intense labor that goes into creating (and attending!) a day's worth of 10-minute plays. Besides raising money for the Theatre Community Benevolent Fund and besides showcasing 45 sponsoring theaters from around New England, the marathon is an opportunity for great discoveries.
It's not every playwright who can convey tragedy in a snapshot without being superficial. Adekoje succeeded in doing so, but most of the 10-minute playwrights went for poignancy or comedy. Shakespeare & Company presented its latest commentary on the theatrical profession, offering Ann Marie Shea's hilarious With Improvements by the Actors, directed by George Spelvin, Jr. In it, three colleagues of the Bard himself rehearse the opening of Hamlet; they obsess about whether they should use Danish accents, about the unfair stereotyping of Danes, and about their motivation for asking, "Who's there?"
In Rick Park's Santer-Baby, sponsored by the Centastage Performance Group and directed by Darren Evans, high-school classmates run into each other in a mall at Christmastime. One has brought her child to have a picture taken with "Santer." The two divorced mothers, with their entertainingly predictable Boston chatter, gradually reveal surprising depth -- and we rethink our condescending laughter.
One major theme of this year's marathon was the struggle with one's parents. Glenn Clifton's Communication, amusingly executed by the Underground Railway Theater under Greg Smucker's direction, suggests that workaholic parents who never listen to their kids may end up with a moody poet for a son, "a pauper in the family." But young playwrights are not alone in trying to get a grip on the child-parent relationship: Laura Harrington, who has a musical version of Martin Guerre and the libretto for the Tod Machover opera Resurrection among her impressive credits, explores the lasting effect of a girl's efforts to keep her mother from suicide in The Life You Save.
Another recurring theme was the battle of the sexes. Ruth Housman's characters use a tense Scrabble game to express their hostility for each other in A Play on Words, presented by the Portland Stage Company. The Nora Theater Company's Mister Perfect, about a bioengineered man-dog, makes fun of women who seek obedient men. The husband and wife in Dennis Porter's Billie torture each other with dreams of finding their little girl years after her disappearance.
Boston's passion for the Red Sox was dealt with again this year, courtesy of Greg Lam's Next October, presented with manic gusto by the Theatre Department of Suffolk University. Alan Brody of MIT looked at current events through the eyes of estranged sisters in Annie and Issie, a play about the removal of a Ten Commandments sculpture from a Bible Belt courthouse.
Cars were a popular subject, too. In William Donnelly's Their Life in the Car, a couple seems able to relate to each other only while driving, and in Ted Cormey's Absolute Zero Content, a policeman's daughter avoids going home drunk by giving a lift to a stranger and bombarding him with her insecurities. In George Spelvin's Driving, Chris Cook and George Saulnier, III elicited laughs about getting lost on the road.
During these marathons, the energy in the theater is palpable. For those who worry that most theater audiences are made up of aging Caucasians, the news is good: Boston Theater Marathon audiences (not to mention playwrights, directors, and performers) include people of color and people of all ages. There's a lesson in that. Casting actors non-traditionally may be one step toward revitalizing the theater but -- as in government, business or education -- change comes when the people pulling the strings also represent a rich diversity of types.