Striving for connection at Boston Theater Marathon
‘Only connect,’’ E.M. Forster famously urged.
Easier said than done, to judge by the subject matter of the 14th annual Boston Theater Marathon.
One way or another, a striking number of the 53 plays presented Sunday concern the difficulties in forging a genuine human connection in a revved-up world where everyone is constantly on the move — literally, emotionally, or technologically.
The underlying message of these 10-minute dramas and comedies: Faced with such circumstances, you’ve got to be willing to adapt, multitask, and sometimes go to extreme lengths in order to make those personal connections happen.
The marathon, presented by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and overseen by that company’s artistic director, Kate Snodgrass, unfolded over 10 hours before a packed house inside the Wimberly Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts.
The question of connection began to bubble up from the start, in two of the first three plays on the schedule — Danny Sklar’s “Lycanthropy’’ and Cliff Blake’s “Saving Walter Cronkite’’ — then resurfaced through the day in such works as Fontaine Dollas Dubus’s “Calling Cues,’’ Erin Striff’s “The As-If Sisters,’’ and Rick Park’s “Stolen Breath.’’
In the quirkily engaging “Lycanthropy,’’ which received its world premiere Sunday under the direction of Craig Houk, a 22-year-old New York cabbie named Maryanne (played by Becca A. Lewis) poses an immediate question to every man who gets into her taxi: “Do you paint like Charles Burchfield?’’
Why that particular query? Because, Maryanne explains, it is the quickest route she can think of toward her goal: to “live in a world filled with vibrating life and color’’ with “a man who will love me and who I will love.’’ But then a bathrobe-wearing fellow named Aldrich (Michael Fisher) enters her cab. Aldrich does not paint, but he and Maryanne do share a love of movies, and Aldrich has other, um, qualities.
He claims to be able to turn into a wolf at will. In fact, he is looking for “a primitive warrior hunter girl’’ alongside whom he can run through the woods of upstate New York. As, you know, a wolf. It turns out that Maryanne has always wanted to be a primitive warrior hunter girl, and she sort of likes the idea of a wolf running by her side. Love being not just a many-splendored but a wayward thing, “Lycanthropy’’ suggests there will be a happily-ever-after for this unorthodox duo.
In “Saving Walter Cronkite,’’ directed by Anna Waldron, a leisure-suit-wearing nebbish named George Herbert Linehan (Robert Murphy) strolls into a cemetery where a surly gravedigger, Walter Murphy (Stephen Libby) is at work, and starts to talk his ear off, seemingly determined to make a friend.
George is a former toll-taker, and the high point of his life was the time Walter Cronkite gave him a $5 bill for a 75-cent fare and told him to “Have a drink on me.’’ “Can you imagine?’’ George asks excitedly. “Walter Cronkite bought me a drink!’’ Responds Walter grouchily: “Wish my customers could tip.’’
George never does manage to pique Walter’s interest in his lifetime pinnacle. But it turns out he has a very particular reason for being at the cemetery, and it also turns out that he made an unexpectedly enduring connection with someone else in the last days of his life — one that will, quite literally, be paid forward.
Dubus’s “Calling Cues,’’ directed by J. Mark Baumhardt, is a gently charming workplace romance.
On duty during a dance performance, a man (Kevin Nessman) and a woman (Gail Bishop-Nessman) engage in a tentative mating dance of their own. The man, a lighting technician, is besotted. As the woman, the stage manager, issues instructions to him (“Keep the silhouette. Less red . . . Fade to blue’’), he blurts out: “I love you.’’ She initially professes not to be interested in him in that way.
However, as they keep talking — sotto voce, interspersed with gossip about the performers and observations about the performance — she starts to warm up to him. By the end, they seem headed for a shared future offstage.
In another world premiere, Striff’s heartfelt “The As-If Sisters,’’ directed by Laura Crook, a woman named Katie (Georgia Lyman) suddenly materializes in a Springfield hotel room being cleaned by Jane (Alex Alexander), the half-sister Katie never knew, or at least does not remember. Katie, who is pregnant, was given up for adoption by their mother when she was 6 months old.
She is not expecting “an Oprah moment’’ from the gruff Jane, and initially, she doesn’t get one. Jane doesn’t want to make room for Katie in her too-crowded, too-stressful life. But Katie persists, determined to create a relationship, partly out of a need for answers about herself.
“Nobody wanted me the way I want this baby,’’ Katie tells Jane. “I just want to know why . . . How do I know who I am if I don’t even know where I came from?’’
Another pregnant woman, Ginerva (Robyn Linden) is at the center of Park’s wrenching “Stolen Breath,’’ directed by Chris Anton. Ginerva is unwilling to leave an empty trolley car that has arrived at its final stop late at night in Mattapan. She wants to just keep riding.
She explains to the baffled driver, Jelly (Mal Malme) that she finds the motions of the trolley soothing. The two appear to have nothing in common: Jelly is a tattooed, down-to-earth lesbian; Ginerva is a seemingly ethereal resident of Concord. But Ginerva clearly needs someone to talk to, for some reason. They converse about this and that, and they share some of Ginerva’s Twizzlers.
When Ginerva finally divulges a terrible secret, Jelly — who was a stranger just minutes before — is there to provide comfort.
Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@