SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 4, 2013

Laugh, cry and fall in love -- all in 10 minutes

Salem Theatre Company festival features short plays that don't shortchange the audience

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — How are 10-minute plays like New England’s weather?

“If you don’t like the one you’re watching, just wait 10 minutes,” said Gary LaParl, managing director of the Salem Theatre Company.

There are 10 plays in Moments of Play, the company’s upcoming festival of 10-minute plays, which should give audiences plenty of chances to find something they like.

“I love 10-minute plays because they happen fast,” LaParl said. “Most of them pull you in immediately and hold on to you, until they drop you like a hot potato.

“But, sometimes, they take awhile to perk, like they’re sneaking up on you, just to slap you in the face or say, ‘Boo.’”

This is the seventh Moments of Play, which was founded by Catherine Bertrand, one of the theater company’s previous artistic directors.

LaParl also credits Bertrand with establishing a special feature of the festival, a panel of nationally recognized playwrights who will meet on Saturday night to evaluate the plays.

For the last two or three years, the lineup has included Richard Dresser, who teaches at Rutgers University and wrote a musical about the Red Sox, “Johnny Baseball,” that was performed at the American Repertory Theatre in 2010.

He is joined by Ronan Noone, who won the Michael Kanin National Playwriting Award for “The Lepers of Baile Baiste,” and Kate Snodgrass, a playwriting professor in the graduate creative writing department at Boston University.

“They come on Saturday to the 5:00 performance, take a half an hour break and have this playwright panel,” LaParl said. “They spend about an hour going through each of the plays.”

The theater company put out a call for submissions at the end of December, then collected plays through March and spent April deciding which 10 they wanted to produce.

“Last year, we did not limit the regional scope of where we solicit, and we got 800 plays from all over the world,” LaParl said. “It was a little overwhelming. This year, we limited it to New England and got 175 submissions.”

The 10 finalists include three playwrights from the North Shore, including Emma Cavaliere of Salem, who has also appeared in several plays at Salem Theatre Company, “An Empty Plate at the Cafe Grand Boeuf,” “Swimming in the Shallows,” and a previous Moments of Play Festival.

Cavaliere’s play, “Crystal Clear,” is about a man and a woman who are attending a mutual friend’s 15th wedding anniversary.

“It becomes clear they know each other better than they let on at first,” Cavaliere said. “They have unanswered questions and unfinished business.”

Though this is her debut as a playwright, Cavaliere, who is originally from Brooklyn, studied creative writing, as well as theater, in high school and college.

“I try and develop character analysis before I start writing — who they are, what they want, what’s driving them,” she said. “I try and develop a very natural dialogue.”

Thanks to her performance in “Swimming in the Shallows,” Cavaliere made another debut recently, landing a role in the motion picture “American Hustle.”

She was sent to audition for the part by Ashley Skomurksi of Beverly, a casting director at Boston Casting, who had gone to Salem Theatre Company to see another actor but came away impressed by Cavaliere.

“She had great energy about her,” Skomurksi said. “She’s really versatile; she’s a strong actor. That speaks to anyone watching her right away.”

“American Hustle,” which will be released later this year, is about the ABSCAM scandal of the 1970s and ’80s, in which members of Congress were arrested by the FBI on corruption charges.

Directed by David O. Russell — who also directed “The Fighter,” about Lowell boxer Mickey Ward, and “Silver Linings Playbook” — the film features several major Hollywood stars.

“It was very exciting,” Cavaliere said. “I worked with Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner. They were very professional and very generous.”

She also enjoyed working with Russell, who has been nominated for three Oscars.

“He’s a very hands-on director,” Cavaliere said. “I felt well-received and taken care of by him. The experience was amazing.”

Discovering new talent among the actors, playwrights and directors is one of the pleasures of Moments of Play, LaParl said.

“It’s always fun to see fresh faces and fresh material,” he said. “We have a lot of acting debuts and directorial debuts.”

Moments of Play will mark the second time that James Wilkinson of Danvers has had one of his plays performed, and he said writing in this short form is challenging.

“It takes a lot to get everything into a 10-minute span, to be concise, to make sure there isn’t a single word that isn’t necessary to push the story forward,” he said.

It took five or six drafts to get “Gentleman” — Wilkinson’s play about a man who has received a lot of odd packages in the mail and wants to know where they are coming from — just right.

“You’re not being shortchanged,” he said. “They’re just like long plays; they have a beginning, middle and end. You’re getting a complete experience that happens to be 10 minutes long.”

If you go What: Moments of Play, 10-Minute Play Festival at Salem Theatre Company When: July 10 to 14, Wednesday to Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday to Sunday at 5 p.m. Free Playwrights Panel at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 13, featuring Richard Dresser, Ronan Noone and Kate Snodgrass Where: Salem Theatre Company, 90 Lafayette St., Salem Tickets: $15, available online at www.salemtheatre.com or by calling 866-811-4111 Information: Visit www.salemtheatre.com, email info@salemtheatre.com, or call 978-790-8546