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 One-Act Play Festival awards.

Accokeek's Hard Bargain Players took several top honors at Sunday night's ceremony, including best overall production for "Gone." NVTA was formerly known as the Northern Virginia Theatre Alliance.

In its second year of competition, the Maryland theater group scored with the original play by Bob Bartlett, edging out well-established troupes that traditionally have prevailed in the major award categories at the festival, held each June in Reston.

Herndon's Elden Street Players, the Reston Community Players and the Little Theatre of Alexandria, which frequently take home trophies in regional theater competitions, were denied awards.

Hard Bargain Players won four of 10 award 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 Reston Community Center's CenterStage theater, accepting awards for best production of an original play, best director and best overall production.

"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."

Earlier, the four cast members of "Gone" -- Cassie Lee, Bruce Ward, Matthew Jordan and Randy Tusing -- were cited by the judges for a discretionary award for best ensemble.

Bartlett noted that actors performing on the stage at remote Hard Bargain Farm do so outdoors, often in less than ideal weather. "The secret is assembling a cast that doesn't mind rehearsing in the rain and the heat and with all the bugs," he said.

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

Tom Ziemba won a best supporting actor award for his role in "Lone Star," and Mona Kay Helper won best supporting actress for "Ripe Conditions," a comedy presented by Fauquier Community Theatre.

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

Participating were Fauquier Community Theatre, Reston Community Players, Castaways Repertory Theatre, Tapestry Theatre Company, Hard Bargain Players, Pied Piper Theatre, Saint Mark's Players, Rockville Little Theatre, Elden Street Players, Little Theatre of Alexandria and Prince William Little Theatre.

The judges were Donna Migliaccio, a Helen Hayes Award winner as a performer and co-founder of Arlington's Signature Theatre; film and stage actor Ralph H. Cosham; and Buzz Mauro, actor and co-founder of the Theatre Lab, the area's largest theatrical training center.

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

The festival winners:

Best actress

Sally Zatkoff, "Sins of the Fathers," Prince William Little Theatre.

Best actor

Darius Suziedelis, "Piano Man," Rockville Little Theatre.

Best supporting actress

Mona Kay Helper, "Ripe Conditions," Fauquier Community Theatre.

Best supporting actor

Tom Ziemba, "Lone Star," Castaways Repertory Theatre, Woodbridge.

Best director

Bob Bartlett, "Gone," Hard Bargain Players, Accokeek.

Best production of an original play

"Gone," Hard Bargain Players, Accokeek.

Best overall production

"Gone," Hard Bargain Players, Accokeek.

Judges' discretionary award -- best technical aspects

"The Trojan Women," Tapestry Theatre Company, Alexandria.

Judges' discretionary award -- best ensemble

"Gone," Hard Bargain Players, Accokeek.

Judges' discretionary award -- combat choreography

"Sorry, Shakespeare," Center for the Arts, Pied Piper Theatre, Manassas.