A hardy band of theater lovers who stage their plays in the middle of the woods at a rustic, open-air Maryland amphitheater dominated the 23rd annual NVTA (formerly Northern Virginia Theatre Alliance) One-Act Play Festival.

Accokeek's Hard Bargain Players took several top honors at Sunday night's ceremony, including best overall production for "Gone."

In their second year of competition, the Hard Bargain Players scored with an original play by Bob Bartlett, edging out well-established troupes that have traditionally dominated the major awards at the two-week festival, which is held each June in Reston.

The Hard Bargain Players won in four of 10 awards categories. No other company earned more than one prize.

Bartlett's play, "Gone," which he also directed, was produced by Suzanne Fehl. It is a whimsical look at three youngsters coming to grips with the death of their father. Searching for their dog in a peculiar ravine, the siblings are helped by a dreamy, philosophical friend.

Bartlett made his way to the podium three times in a row at the CenterStage theater of the Reston Community Center, accepting awards for best production of an original play, best director and best overall production. The play also took home the award for best ensemble.

"I write every day," he said. "It's sort of how I get by. But I wanted to write a play about leukemia, that wasn't about leukemia, for my brother. And I think we succeeded in bringing some joy to a pretty sad thing."

In other top awards, Darius Suziedelis won best actor for "Piano Man," an original drama by Audrey Cefaly of Rockville Little Theatre. Sally Zatkoff was named best actress for her role in "Sins of the Father," an original drama by Deb Crawford produced by Prince William Little Theatre.

Of the 13 plays presented at the festival, seven were new works from local playwrights, and many had warnings about mature subject matter and language.

NVTA, founded in 1980 to support local theater, has expanded to 31 theater companies in Virginia, Maryland and the District.

Darius Suziedelis won best actor at the NVTA One-Act Play Festival on Sunday for his role in "Piano Man."