When one considers theater in some of the most famous historic periods, such as the Elizabethan era, one will often think of legendary stages such as The Globe. But one should also consider that such venues housed raucous events, and often the distractions of the audience would deter a person’s ability to enjoy the performance. The best performances were more intimate events conducted in the royal court. The calm, genteel audience would sit and enjoy the plays in an intimate setting providing an appreciative gathering encouraging the actors to perform at their best with minimal distractions.
New York City is certainly a stage town and the vast theatrical community has been thriving here for centuries. More than the extravagant productions that flash along the “great white way” of Broadway, there are countless small theaters producing exceptional works. These small theaters offer the opportunity for the audience to enjoy the performances in a calm, intimate setting. In many cases, the playwrights are seated along with the audience.
Many of my favorite events at the small theaters are the playwright festivals which offer a broad range of short plays in a single evening allowing me to compare distinctive styles and the management of particular themes, issues and ideas. With one work bunted against the other there is an immediate ease in considering the works, an abruptness in contrasts to compare strengths and weaknesses, while also allowing myself the entertainment of the emotional uproar that the theater can incite within my mind. To enjoy this within a calm, intimate setting is particularly appealing. For me, it is similar to the pleasure I find in reading the stories of harrowing adventures or the imbroglios of intricate novels while calmly sitting in my favorite chair in the tranquility of my own apartment while casually sipping from a cup of tea. Instead of the jostling commotion of crowds, all the excitement transpires within my mind.
For the next four weeks, The Gallery Players presents the 17th Annual Black Box New Play Festival in Brooklyn. Through four different installments beginning this weekend and running each weekend through June 22, 14 new works will be performed.
The first weekend presents 6 new plays by 5 playwrights. The opening play, Save the World: Last Chance, written by the Charles MacArthur Fellow Mark Eisman, deftly explores the issues of geography, identity and values for location, career, family and one’s self with an interesting pragmatic twist for the resolution. Through the play, I was astonished to see the number of issues and the complexity of relations compacted within a production of less than 20 minutes. This was followed by one of two plays by Brett Epstein, Community Service, portraying the humor in the incomparable mixture of the disjunctive vernacular and the distorted logic of teenagers. Fool Me Twice is a play by Bara Swain depicting the uncanny intersection and overlapping of two lady’s lives. Mama’s Almost Birthday, by Lily Rusek, is a hilarious comedy depicting a family with an adored, although negligent and arrogant daughter, compared with the exploited and devoted daughter seeking desperately to balance the care and concern for her feisty mother’s wellbeing, while also desperately trying to nurture a love of her own. Miro, by Kate Bell, explores the issue of companionship and a second play by Brett Epstein, Back, is a harrowing psychological play that acts out the tempestuous and inexplicable behavior that can arise from underlining traumas from a person’s past.
The festival provides the opportunity for emerging and establishing playwrights, directors and actors to present their work and perform before the public to maintain the conversation between artists and the community. And in a way, the humble, yet intimate arrangements allow the audience to enjoy performances in a way similar to how Queen Elizabeth enjoyed theater.
The Gallery Players is located at 199 14th Street in Brooklyn,
Garrett Buhl Robinson is a poet and novelist living in New York City. www. garrettrobinson.us