Berkshire Playwrights Lab: New space and a new play

GREAT BARRINGTON — In the 10 years since its founding, Berkshire Playwrights Lab has been flying under the radar, says co-artistic director Jim Frangione.

Not any more. Berkshire Playwrights Lab now has a home — an office and a roughly 300-seat performing space — in Great Barrington's new Main Street performing and visual arts center, St. James Place. Its new home is less than a block away from the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, where BPL has been presenting fully staged readings — four or five a summer — of new plays in development.

"Our actors don't sit at lecterns reading from scripts. They move around the stage," co-artistic director Joe Cacaci said during a recent interview at St. James Place, where he was joined by his partners, Frangione and Matthew Penn, and playwright James Anthony Tyler.

Now, BPL is doing something it's never done before — it's asking its actors to move around the stage without scripts as the lab presents its first-ever fully mounted production.

The play is Tyler's "Some Old Black Man," a two-character, 90-minute intermission-less work about two men who are polar opposites — an elderly man who is reluctantly relocating from his southern home to New York, and his son, who is making room for his father in his Harlem condominium.

"Some Old Black Man" officially opened Saturday and is scheduled to run Thursdays through Sundays through Aug. 27.

Roger Robinson is playing the father, Donald, a role he played in BPL's 2015 reading of the play, and Leon Addison Brown is playing the son, Calvin.

"We've put together an A-list cast of actors and designers together for this," said Cacaci, who is directing "Some Old Black Man." "We believed in this play enough that we were committed to raising the money we needed to do it."

Tyler began writing "Some Old Black Man" while he was in graduate school at NYU. It was recommended to Cacaci and his partners by Bob Jaffe, a founder of BPL who no longer is directly associated with the group.

The play is based, Tyler said, "around my parents' generation's coming of age in America."

Over its 10 years, BPL has had readings of 50 full-length and 80 short plays, Penn says. Among the writers and actors who have worked with BPL are Dan Lauria, Wendy Malick, Treat Williams, Tony Shalhoub, David Mamet, Eric Bogosian, Elaine May. But it's not a particular actor or playwright who attract BPL audiences, says Frangione. "Our audiences are coming to see a new play."

Penn, Frangione and Cacaci read somewhere around 100 scripts each year from which they cull "six or eight we feel strongly about," Penn said. Four or five of those will make the final cut.

Nearly a half dozen of the plays that began life at BPL have moved on to other theaters. "Some Old Black Man" is the first play developed at BPL that also has had its world premiere here. It will not be last, Cacaci and his partners say.

Tyler says the experience he has had at BPL has been invaluable. He's been able to dig in, he says, and understand what's working in the play and change what isn't.

"This is an extraordinary lab," he said. "I feel really lucky and blessed. These men are truly invested in the work."

Reach Jeffrey Borak at 413-496-6212


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