In a quiet yard in the five boroughs, a father hands his daughter her old baby blanket, and her mother grips a garden trowel as she grapples with the coming of a new generation. Two women in love hold each other together through a reckoning with people who matter to them, asking what family really, essentially means.
Around them, people in the neighborhood are walking by and talking with their windows open, and they will emerge into their own stories as the night goes on. A husband and wife married more than 40 years are holding hands. Three men sitting around a game table in an apartment living room are trading comic stories that unexpectedly hit home.
They come into the light as playwrights HK Goldstein and Jennifer Jasper co-direct Slideshow, an evening of new short plays with the Bennington Community Theater, at the Bennington Performing Arts Center.
Meet the makers
Slidshow will bring together actors and musicians from Bennington and theregion, from Manchester to Troy and Albany. The cast includes Bennington Community Theatre veterans Mary Jo Greco, Brian Barney, Danny Townsend, Ted DeBonis, Ingrid Madelayne and Emma Jansch — and welcome Tanya Gorlow, Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm, Jeannine Trimboli, Dylan Angell, Caitlyn Angell, Hope J. MacDonald and Debbie Warnock.
“When you have a whole evening of shorts, the whole evening should tell a story,” Jasper said.
And so short plays from four or five writers weave together, finding a through-line in a sense of family and community. In the transitions, people move through the streets and kitchens and cafes who have come from scenes in the past and will walk into stories to come. Some move into more than one story, and some move through time.
“It’s one neighborhood,” Goldstein agreed, “and they all live in this world. … Some themes we explore at an intergenerational level are personal (to the characters), and some are part of something larger. That’s the way we are — our relationships with the people we love spill out into the ways we move in the world.”
‘When you have a whole evening of shorts, the whole evening should tell a story.’ — Jennifer Jasper, co-director
Jasper and Goldstein spoke separately in quick breaks in rehearsal, as the lighting director refined cues and shifted time in a moment from city dusk to noon. They connected here in fall 2020, they both said, coming to Bennington from different parts of the world.
Goldstein had been focusing on film and podcasting for a time, and moving here they reconnected with a long and deep love for live theater. They and Jasper led a workshop together at the Bennington PAC last spring on gender and expression and costuming.
Jasper had directed a collection of plays in New York City before she came here, she said, and an evening of short plays in Seattle, Love Travels Fast, in 2018, exploring relationships. When the community theater asked her to direct an evening of plays, she reached out to HK, and together they have curated new works from playwrights on both coasts, exploring themes of family.
They are stories rarely seen on stage, both agreed, and deeply timely. They may link generations of women, asking questions of love, choice, pregnancy, Jasper said. She sees themes coming out, connecting and contrasting from one play to the next. Characters are maintaining relationships with people who aren’t the perfect fit, relationships are in flux and complex.
In her own first story of the evening, an aging woman thinks she has a chance to reconnect with an old flame — and reconnects with a challenging past with her daughter at the same time.
Slideshow offers many roles for women and actors of all ages, Goldstein said, and they have found strength and joy in creating a community of theater artists open to exploring new challenges with honesty and care.
‘To have 15 bodies on stage in that neighborhood and see people in relationships — it’s something people are craving. To build an ensemble is such a gift after the past few years.’ — HK Goldstein, co-director
“I’ve worked on a lot of shows,” Goldstein said, “and this one is easeful. We have an amazing cast.”
They have found an excitement in community theater, in making work with people who live nearby. They can escape some of the constraints of a professional summer theater and support a cast of 15 people. And that richness of resources feels rare especially now, coming cautiously out of the pandemic and so many months of isolation.
“To have 15 bodies on stage in that neighborhood and see people in relationships — it’s something people are craving,” they said. “To build an ensemble is such a gift after the past few years.”
These plays tells stories they have seen or experienced as someone growing up immersed in theater. With works gathered by two queer directors, they said, these are not stories you always see.
“We have multiple people outside the gender binary,” Goldstein said. “For me as a trans director, I can talk with actors around what genders you feel comfortable playing, what feels right to you.”
For Jasper, that sense of warm friendship echoes in the title. Slide Show recalls for her times with family and friends, reaffirming connections. She remembers sitting with her grandparents and looking through slides on the projector. Her family took a long trip across the U.S. in 1973, she said, and once a year they would revisit those memories together.
Storytelling distilled those times down to essentials and shown a light through them. It was an event to set up the screen and look at those images, bright and large as life. And now slides have become vintage technology, she said, like a stereopticon, eliding time.
Short plays remind her of their form, in their own ways. They have an arc and a completeness in a short space, she said — “(It’s powerful) what you can do with just a taste of the world.”