Friday, September 26, 2008

T and sympathy

"The T Plays" is a modest little evening put together by Mill 6 Collaborative that somehow packs more creativity and cleverness into its hour-and-a-half than most of the big shows on the boards right now. Don't think, mind you, that you're going to get anything at all in the way of production values here - the setting is bare-bones, in the brick-and-concrete Factory Theatre space, and the seats are no more comfortable than those on the actual T (and the one bathroom is upstairs). Nor is there much high drama on offer - again, the real-life T has provided wilder stories than any seen here. No, these scripts are precisely what you'd expect from a high-concept Gen X - Gen Y evening - quirky, self-aware little comedies, with unexpected twists. But as quirk goes, this is high-end stuff.

The gimmick here is that the plays on tap were written just last Saturday - after, or even during, an extended ride on the T. Mill 6 put up a similar evening last weekend, and audience favorites from both programs will take another bow next weekend. (Got that?) Of course this whimsical little stunt could be a recipe for disaster, except that Boston, almost unbeknownst to itself, has steadily developed a network of talented playwrights over the last few years. Most of the authors here were familiar to me from past successes, and most came through again with witty, well-crafted little gems.

Indeed, the most obvious "flaw" in the best of these was that the texts cried out for further development (and how many times have you wished that a play was longer?). "Because I Could Not Stop for the Silver Line, It Kindly Stopped For Me," by Kristin Baker and Dan Milstein (of Rough & Tumble Theatre), for instance, which cleverly plunks The Seventh Seal onto a bus, could still use at least one more emotional twist before its conclusion. Meanwhile Pat Gabridge's poignant "Recognition" - in which an adoptive mother recognizes the birth mother of her child on the Green Line - cries out even louder for an extension. Only one script struck me as meandering, and sometimes filling time - Ken Urban's "The Quiet Desperation of White People," which is actually bracingly frank and punchy until about three-quarters of the way through, when it takes an odd half-turn into questions of racism that feel a little forced. The remaining scripts, "6 AM: Violin/Viola," by Matt Chapuran, and "A Single Look Back," by John Edward O'Brien (who directed "Recognition," as well as Mill 6 in general) were less ambitious, but still consistently witty and well-crafted.

The acting, given the time pressures involved, was likewise surprisingly thoughtfully detailed and well-paced. Probably the best, most natural turns came from Faith Imafidon and Giselle Ty in "6 AM: Violin/Viola," and Bonnie Duncan and Forrest Walter in "The Quiet Desperation of White People," but there were really no significant gaps across what amounted to quite a large ensemble. This is the second or third intriguing production I've seen from Mill 6, and in fact "The T Plays" marks their tenth anniversary in this city, and yet they're still operating just outside the cultural radar. One wonders how and when Boston is going to build a ladder from its fringe scene into its "small theatre scene" (we just lost one of our best fringe actors, Eliza Lay, to New York, and more will inevitably follow unless the current situation changes). Could the BCA offer the occasional "Fringe Night" (or even a reprise of "The T Plays") in its Rehearsal Room A, or could, say, SpeakEasy or the Lyric host a late-night fringe cabaret after Light in the Piazza or Follies? Some sort of explicit connection between the actual physical sites of our mid-size scene and those of the fringe is required for both to remain healthy.

Then again, you yourself can always support the fringe, and it's easy to do so when its productions are as diverting as "The T Plays," which you have till Sunday to catch. You can even take the T.

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