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Back in ‘Black’

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For the past 11 years, the Gallery Players’ “Black Box New Play Festival” has brought new and un-produced work to the borough, but this year, the group is expanding its reach into another unexplored realm: Manhattan.

This year’s festival, a co-production with socially conscious theater company Engine37, will mount two shows — “The Reckoning of Kit & Little Boots,” an absurdist comedy about Caligula by Nat Cassidy, and “Hope’s Arbor,” about a boarding school prison break, by Rich Espey — at the Gallery Players’ Park Slope theater and then move them into Manhattan Theater Source for six additional shows.

“[Gallery Players Artistic Director] Heather Curran approached me about working on this festival about a year ago, and I thought it might be useful for the Gallery Players to gain some additional exposure. And by looking at doing a co-production,” said Neal Freeman, a Players board member and artistic director of the Engine37, “the Gallery Players had something unique, their own theater, and we had the ability to move shows to Manhattan. So it could be a win-win.”

After reviewing more than 150 scripts, Freeman and Curran decided that, despite the festival’s history of producing a number of one-act plays, they would choose one show and do a full-scale production. The problem was they couldn’t pick just one.

“We found ‘Hope’s Arbor’ first. I read it and thought it was a play I really wanted to do. Soon after that, we found Nat Cassidy’s play and liked that one quite a lot as well,” said Freeman. “We kicked it around in our heads and finally landed on the co-production idea as a way to make it more of an event.

“I was interested in doing full-lengths, because they’re harder to do. There are a lot of little one-act festivals around, but we thought it would be riskier but would have a higher payoff.”

And so far it has.

“It’s been great. I don’t have too much to compare it to, though, since this is the first time that a show of mine has been given such a production,” said Bay Ridge resident Cassidy, who wrote, and will also be acting in, “The Reckoning of Kit & Little Boots.” “Neal and I have been working together on the script, so it’s been a great collaborative experience.”

Indeed, everyone involved with the productions is collaborating to an astounding degree. Not only do the shows share a set — despite “Reckoning” being set in Elizabethan England and “Hope’s Arbor” in modern-day Connecticut — but with Curran and Freeman each directing a show, and Cassidy acting as both playwright and actor, everyone involved is wearing a number of hats (and that’s before the costume department even gets involved).

For this grown-up drama club, though, all of the interaction is exhilarating.

“This is the 11th year, and every year we’ve grown and tried new things,” said Curran. “I think it’s so great to have a place for a playwright to see their work fully realized. And at least in this format, the authors are getting even more out of the experience than having a [shorter] play done ... it’s really nice to fully realize a play in the way that we do all of the other works that we do.”

“The Reckoning of Kit & Little Boots” and “Hope’s Arbor” will run through June 21 at The Gallery Players (199 14th St. at Fourth Avenue in Park Slope) and the Manhattan Theater Source (177 Macdougal St. at West Eighth Street in Manhattan). Tickets are $18, $14 for seniors and children. For information, call (718) 595-0547 or visit www.galleryplayers.com.

Updated 5:06 pm, July 9, 2018
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