Suzan-Lori Parks doesn’t write the sort of plays summer stock audiences are used to. Works such as “The Death Of The Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World,” “Fucking A,” and “Topdog/Underdog,” which earned Parks a Pulitzer in 2002, touch on issues of race, identity, and history in an edgy, minimalist style. So while she’s a staple of the Public Theater in Manhattan and urban theaters around the country, Parks’s plays have yet to grace the Berkshires—until now. Not long after winning her Pulitzer (as well as a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”), Parks undertook a project that is bringing her subversive and quirky humor right to the leafy hills of western Massachusetts.
“365 Days/365 Plays” is the result of a challenge Parks set herself: to write a play a day for a year. She began on November 13, 2002, and went on to create a sometimes bizarre cycle of short pieces that range from lyrical odes to works consisting entirely of stage directions. Surrealistic and self-referential, the plays comment on then-current events (the deaths of Gregory Hines, John Ritter, and George Plimpton, for example), and on the difficulty of the writing task itself, as in the one-line script, “This is Shit.”
Once it was completed, Parks and her producer and friend Bonnie Metzgar decided that a project of this magnitude deserved an equally grand presentation. So, on November 13, 2006, performance spaces from Austin to Seattle to New York started in on a “relay race” of premieres of Parks’s playlets that will continue every day until November 12, 2007. Participating companies sign up to perform a week’s worth of plays, with the series bouncing from stage to stage within a given geographic area. The Williamstown Theater Festival is co-hosting the event with MASS MoCA in our region; they’ve gotten other theaters involved, including the Barrington Stage Company, Berkshire Fringe Festival, Adirondack Theater Festival, and Vermont’s Weston Playhouse.
On August 3, Williamstown will present week 38 of the tour as a special addition to the company’s “Fridays @ 3” series of staged readings. All seven of that segment’s plays will be presented in a single 90-minute performance as full productions on the Nikos Stage. (The rest of the “Fridays @ 3” readings have been moved this year to the festival’s brand-new Paresky Center.)
“This is the most avant-garde that we’ve gone with the reading series,” says WTF Artistic Associate Suzanne Agins. “Certainly for the Berkshires it feels very experimental, which is part of why we were so excited to give everyone a taste of it.”
While “Fridays @ 3” usually serves as an incubator for works that may someday play the main stage but are not quite ready now, “365 Days/365 Plays” is probably just a summer fling.
“Suzan-Lori Parks is unlikely to have a production here in Williamstown,” Agins admits, but then quickly adds, “Never say never!”