Friday, July 2, 2010

"The T Plays" return

Theatre takes over the T in "Amid the Least of the Magi," with Marie Polizzano, Juliet Gowing McGinnis, and Sasha Castroverde.

We haven't heard much from Mill 6 Collaborative for a while, so I was eager to check out their new edition of "The T Plays," an evening of scripts which supposedly were written on - or in, or around - the T (and which ran for only four performances, alas, last weekend at the Factory Theatre). Mill 6, led by John Edward O'Brien, has long been at the center of what you might call the Smart Kids' Clique of the Boston fringe - a loose constellation of performers and groups that would have to include Whistler in the Dark, Rough & Tumble, Imaginary Beasts, and New Exhibition Room, who together regularly conjure intelligent, wittily unpretentious theatre on the thinnest of shoestrings.

This time, I have to admit, there was one statistical outlier in the crowd - Terry Byrne, the feisty little critic who is now styling herself as a playwright. What was she doing hanging with the smart kids? I had to wonder, but as you know I've decided to be as nice to Terry as I possibly, possibly can, so I kept an open mind about her maiden dramatic effort. And I'll admit that her script, while no more than a standard-issue SNL sketch, wasn't as bad as I thought it might be; let's just say she's roughly as good a playwright as she is a critic (that should keep her fans happy, shouldn't it?).

There were heavier hitters than Byrne on offer, though, including well-known local writers Pat Gabridge (who really should have broken out of this provincial burg by now), John J King, and Rick Park. Newcomers (at least to me) included Bill Doncaster, Sean Michael Welch, and Melanie Garber. Of these, it seemed to me that Gabridge, King, Doncaster, and Welch got the furthest on their respective "lines" (although Park was funny as ever). I didn't feel there was quite the same level of inspiration in this year's model than in the original "T Plays" from last season, but there was still plenty of perceptive wit on offer.

The freshness factor was, however, a problem occasionally. I was struck, for instance, by how many of the playlets depended on meeting gay people or transvestites on the T; I'm not sure what that means, but it hardly feels up-to-the-minute. The stronger work of the evening either depended on a clear emotional conflict (such as Gabridge's "Escape to Wonderland," which had a witty hook, but wrapped with an improbable shoot-out) or went amusingly meta (both Doncaster's "Amid the Least of the Magi" and Welch's "Life and Death at the Washington Street and Melnea Cass Boulevard Bus Stop"). All of these were blessed with quite capable casts, too, btw, including the reliable Jen O'Connor, Ally Tully, Nate Gundy (who was by far the best I've seen him in King's "M. Riverside"), Forrest Walter, Sasha Castroverde, Juliet Gowing McGinnis, Marie Polizzano, Jim Barton and Jason Lambert.

As with the last edition of "The T Plays," I left the theatre wondering how Mill 6 and these many performers might find a larger audience. Surely these sketches are highly portable; maybe if the actors played everything in pasties and thongs, they could get programmed at Zero Arrow? Let's think about that.