In the fall of 2020, a young playwright named Matthew Gasda decided to entertain some friends by staging a one-act drama on a grassy hilltop of Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn. The masked audience quickly realized that what they were watching was conspicuously relatable: Performed on a picnic blanket by seven actors, “Circles” presented a group of pandemic-weary friends who gather over wine one night in a city park to catch up on their lives.
After the applause, Mr. Gasda, 33, passed around a hat for donations. Then he began plotting his next play.
A few months later he unveiled “Winter Journey,” a drama loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” in a chilly backyard in Bushwick. Then came “Quartet,” a comedy about two couples who swap partners, which he put on in a TriBeCa apartment. He staged his next play, “Ardor,” about friends who gather for a weekend in the country, in a loft in Greenpoint. He was a long way from Broadway, or even Off Broadway, but he was grateful for the attention.
“I’d long been staging plays in New York in anonymity,” he said, “but during the pandemic I became like the rat that survived the nukes. Suddenly, there was no competition.”
In the spring of 2021, he fell into a downtown social scene that was forming on the eastern edge of Chinatown, by the juncture of Canal and Division Streets. What he witnessed inspired his next work, “Dimes Square.”
“Dimes Square became the anti-Covid hot spot, and so I went there because that’s where things were happening,” Mr. Gasda said.
Named after Dimes, a restaurant on Canal Street, the micro scene was filled with skaters, artists, models, writers and telegenic 20-somethings who didn’t appear to have jobs at all. A hyperlocal print newspaper called The Drunken Canal gave voice to what was going on.
Mr. Gasda, who had grown up in Bethlehem, Pa., with the dream of making it in New York, threw himself into the moment, assuming his role as the scene’s turtlenecked playwright. And as he worked as a tutor to support himself by day, and immersed himself in Dimes Square at night, he began envisioning a play.
Set in a Chinatown loft, “Dimes Square” chronicles the petty backstabbing among a group of egotistic artists and media industry types. It’s filled with references to local haunts like the bar Clandestino and the Metrograph theater, and …….