The ArtsCenter opened its twelfth 10 by 10 in the Triangle this weekend, packing the house on opening night with an audience whose heads, interestingly enough, were mostly gray. This observation emphasizes the draw that the annual 10 by 10 brings to the ArtsCenter; if veteran theatergoers flock to see these ten new plays every year, then the theater scene is definitely alive and well in the Triangle. The holdover is a compliment to The ArtsCenter, as well as the ten actors who assemble to perform these ten new gems.

This year brought a number of new challenges, from the first play to the last. The first work, “My Name is Yin,” by Tom Swift, required a huge cast for a ten-minute play, totaling six, as well as a walk-on by The ArtsCenter Artistic Director Jeri Lynn Schulke. The plays proceeded apace so that all ten plays were presented in a compact two hours’ time.

Second was “will/did/is,” a play involving time travel and our ability to believe in it, even when faced with the almost-certain circumstance that it just isn’t so. This work, by Patrick Gabridge, used a scant two-member cast (Alphonse Nicholson and Amanda Scherle) to bring about its timely conclusion. Then came another play about time, “New Year’s Eve,” by David MacGregor. In it, a man (Owen Daly) facing his “golden years” in a nursing home regaled his nurse (LaKeisha Coffey) with reasons why New Year’s Eve is not a celebratory event. Mora Harris, a Durham playwright, contributed “What You Don’t Know,” a gruesome bit of fun as two street cleaners (Amanda Scherle and Brett Stafford) debated life over a bit of road kill. The first act concluded with Karen JP Howes’ “The 5564 to Toronto,” wherein one character (Alphonse Nicholson) attempted to save the life of another (Mary Forester) by keeping her from boarding the bus to Toronto.

Act II started off with “Fruit,” by Abe Koogler. It was about a young man (Michael Brocki) who just enlisted and discovered there was a “fruit” bunking just above him (in this case, an apple). What happened next was witnessed by his barracks mates (Alphonse Nicholson and Brett Stafford). Margy Ragsdale’s “A Gun on the Table” followed as a husband and wife (Mark Filiaci and Bonnie Roe) discussed, in true British fashion, just what a gun on the table can mean to a staid old couple. A trio of ladies (Lakeisha Coffey, Mary Forester, and Amanda Sherle) attempted to scale a mountain in more ways than one in “Zero Mile Mark,” by Carol Mullen. Sean Abley examined Victorian etiquette in “Dr. Jekyll and Little Miss Hyde.” In this play, a man (Owen Daly) confronted Dr. Jekyll (Leanne Heintz) as his dreaded concoction turned him from medical doctor to liberated Victorian Hussy. The evening concluded with a hilarious examination of detective genres in “Detective Stories,” by Philip J. Kaplan. In round robin fashion, we met a series of crimes and their detectives, each using a different line of questioning to bring about a satisfactory end, to the play as well as the evening. Michael Brocki, Mark Filiaci, and Bonnie Roe filled the bill.

The audience was alert and aware as these ten plays flew by, bringing in turn gales of laughter or moments of thoughtful attentiveness. Judging by the reactions, the favorite of the evening was “Dr. Jekyll and Little Miss Hyde”; the laughter and applause meter peaked for this entertaining little examination of Victorian mores. But my favorite of the evening was “Fruit,” which examined the all-too-frequent response when a small-town boy is confronted with something that he just cannot understand. The playwright used just the right amount of nuance and metaphor to bring this play to a crashing conclusion in a scant ten minutes.

This year’s selection of plays ranged from the terrifying to the hilarious, and these ten actors were in first-rate form as they changed on a dime from script to script. The sum was an entertaining and thought-provoking evening as ten writers at the top of their form created a myriad of scenes in a moment of time.

10 by 10 in the Triangle runs through Sunday, July 21, but The ArtsCenter recommends making your reservations now in anticipation of selling out. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.