All Aboard for a Murder!

Sometimes you have to stick with the classics.

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express was published as a novel in 1934, made into films twice, and most recently was adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig. Over time and all these permutations, the story has retained its intricate web of mystery, deceit, sardonic wit, told by a complex cast of characters. All for One Productions’ latest version at Shea’s 710 Theatre captures it all on a pretty amazing stage, too.

All for One and the show’s director Kyle LoConti kept it all pretty mainstream and that simplicity was this show’s perfection. Lynne Koscielniak’s set is gorgeous: it revolves to reveal four distinct places – including the train’s dim and narrow aisle and it’s well-appointed a quite glamorous. Prop master Diane Almeter Jones and her team went for pure art deco elegance which was echoed by Lise Harty’s stunning costumes. You’re pulled into story immediately on the narrow video screen above the set which also becomes the moving train.

What’s a great set without a cast of actors in roles that fit them like fine calf skin gloves? Christian Brandjes is a marvelous Hercule Poirot, right down to the elaborate moustache. Gregory Gjurich is c’est magnifique as Monsieur Bouc, Poirot’s friend who helps get him aboard the train from Istanbul to London. Make sure you read the cast bios in the (really printed on page) playbill. Gjurich shows his devotion to his character in his entry. Lisa Ludwig is wonderfully brash as the only American, Mrs. Hubbard. Alas, there are plenty of aliases among this large cast and a couple actors who adroitly handle double roles. It’s all great fun. At the back of your mind, you know that the characters are in a world between wars, they’re fighting their inner battles, too, and yet they are swathed in a refined elegance that only can happen on a train in Europe. With murderers afoot. And revenge as a motive. Or was it?

Even if you’re blasé about having read the book, seen the movie(s), know the plot and its twists, this is mighty fine theatre. The set is an experience, the acting is superb, and whole experience is a pure delight. It’s a short run to April 2; find tickets and details at

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission.


“Beetlejuice” at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

Justin Collette (Beetlejuice) at Tour Company of “Beetlejuice.” Photo by Michael Murphy 2022.

A visual spectacle of elaborate lighting and effects matched with superb talent and absurd comedy, Beetlejuice opened at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre last evening. Whether or not you are a fan of the original movie, you’re in luck: Beetlejuice the musical is so much better. It brings all the best parts of the cult-classic film while also giving the story a much-needed update and adding adult humor that will have you laughing hysterically. Beetlejuice tells the story of Lydia Deets (Isabella Esler) who is a grief-stricken teen enamored by all that is strange and unusual. A couple months after the death of her mom, Lydia and her father (Jesse Sharp) move into a house that was recently vacated by couple Barbara (Britney Coleman) and Adam (Will Burton) after an unfortunate electrical accident. After being plunged into the afterlife, Barbara and Adam seek guidance from a demon named Beetlejuice (typically Justin Collette but portrayed on opening night by Matthew Michael Janisse) to get their house back and scare out the new owners. When it’s discovered that Lydia can see these ghost inhabitants while no one else can, we are taken on a whirlwind of an adventure involving the Netherworld, possession, underage marriage, and so much more!

First off, I was very surprised to see so many kids in the audience. This is definitely not a show for children and includes crude humor and language that is not for young ears. I thoroughly enjoyed how much this show pushed the enveloped and couldn’t stop laughing right from the second song, “The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing”. Beetlejuice immediately breaks the 4th wall and addresses the audience directly to let us know this is show about death so we better come to terms with that quick. Janisse quickly became an audience favorite with his high energy, perfect comedic timing, and kooky portrayal of Beetlejuice. I have no idea how a person could continuously portray that role night after night and imagine it must take some serious caffeine. Isabella Esler truly blew me away as Lydia. A recent high school graduate (!!!), Esler has some insane power to her voice and continued to really belt it out for the entire length of the show, one song after another. Kate Marilley as life coach Delia reminded me of Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek in her accent and mannerisms. Burton and Coleman have excellent stage chemistry as Adam and Barbara and are such a perfect contrast in character to Beetlejuice. 

One of my favorite numbers in the show has to be “Creepy Old Guy”. In the original film, Beetlejuice needs Lydia to marry him so he can be alive again (literally). The character of Lydia is estimated to be around 14-16 years old while Beetlejuice is…..well…. a creepy old guy in comparison. This is kind of brushed over in the movie and not really deemed to be too strange or gross. However, I love that the musical in contrast really leaned into the fact that the whole concept is so incredibly wrong and poked fun at itself. “Day-O” is obviously a showstopper, as well, and I’m so glad the musical recreated that classic scene from the movie so wonderfully. That song and “Jump in Line” are sure to be in your head as you leave the theatre!

The visuals in the show really appeal to the senses and are quite a spectacle to take in. There are many, many, many set changes as we bounce from scene to scene. However, they are all executed so quickly and seamlessly, it’s easy to overlook. Projections are creatively utilized over the scenery, curtains, and backdrop to really bring the stage to life in an interesting way. The large, angular arch that frames the stage acts as a huge lighting effect with different colors, flashing, and strobing throughout the show to achieve various desired effects. Fog is also used and even elements of fire in different forms of stage magic. Your senses are sure to be stimulated!

Overall, this show is incredibly entertaining and has such a fun atmosphere. It’s showing at Shea’s through the 26th and has a run time of 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Be…….tter get your tickets soon!

For more information, click here.

The Play That Goes Wrong Gets It Absolutely Right

Here’s what I love about the WNY theatre community: there are the classics; there are the thought-provoking in-your-head-dramas; there are the social justice productions; there are soul-lifting musicals galore; and then there are the shows that are so silly and funny you laugh all the way home. And that, my friends, is The Play That Goes Wrong, onstage now at D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre.

It’s one of those “plays about a play” that gives the audience a glimpse behind the curtain at theatre’s inner workings. Although in this show, theatre’s inner workings aren’t working very well. This theatre company’s newest production is “The Murder at Haversham Manor” and at first, it’s the set that’s suffering from mantle pieces falling off and the director’s Duran Duran boxed set among the missing. And then the corpse isn’t properly dead. And the prop mistress is  reluctantly recast and eventually gets charmingly stage struck when the ingenue is suddenly stricken. Well, you get the picture.

What makes this production a cut above the usual play-within-a-play hijinks routines is the attention to detail all around. From Dyan Burlingame’s clever two-level set (spoiler alert, pieces break off a lot), costumes designed by Andrea Letcher to Donny Woodard’s collection of props, these fine points make a delightful production all the more special. Chris Cavanagh technical direction and trick creation (that’s what the program says) is pure stage magic.

The “actors” in this ersthwhile theatre company all play dual roles here. Brian Mysliwy is at his best as Inspector Carter whose searching for the killer. Kodi James’ best moments are as the deceased, and no, he’s not just laying there playing dead. He has one-eye-open (literally!) on what’s going on and he’s spot on. Don Gervasi is a riot as Thomas Colleymoore, resident rich guy in the manor. Jacob Albarella’s servant role is wonderfully understated and a snotty step out of any British drama on public broadcasting. It’s Steve Copps in the triad role that had me in stitches. His smallest part as Arthur the Gardener was the one to watch. He muggs for the audience. He smiles at the spotlight. He’s so good at being so bad. Alexandria Watts and Afrim Gjonbalaj as the stagehands were the perfect deadpan foils for the stage chaos of this acting troupe.

What I love best is that the show makes no apologies for what it is: a beautifully done send up of a theatre company that takes itself oh so seriously as stage disaster happens all around. It’s funny, it’s relaxing, and it’s just what we need in our theatre landscape right now. Kudos to directors Michael Galante and Adriano Gattos for assembling this just right onstage and offstage team.

The Play That Goes Wrong runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission to March 19. Make the time, see the show, laugh ‘til you can’t laugh anymore.

Every Brilliant Thing Sparks Joy at Shea’s Smith Theatre

Kids with a parent who is living with a mental illness diagnosis  develop an intriguing set of social skills. They quickly intuit to whom  they can confide, how to disappear into the woodwork during challenging moments, and how to fend for themselves if need be. They also learn how to love with a whole albeit broken heart. Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan MacMillan captures those highs and lows in a captivating one-actor show, produced by Second Generation Theatre and onstage now to March 18 at Shea’s Smith Theatre.

Kevin Craig is the young man who is reflecting on his life through the lens of his mother’s suicide attempts; the first time is when he was seven. His little boy wisdom includes the thought that perhaps he’s to blame for his mother’s mental state, so he figures he can also help save her life. He decides to make her a list of “every brilliant thing” that makes life worth living. Topping the list, of course, is ice cream and he moves through the everyday things that can spark a smile. His emphasis is more on the experience and not material things, and some are esoteric and thought-provoking. Like his fascination with like #521 –  “the word plinth.” When his mom makes another attempt 10 years later, he comes back to the list and it grows and becomes his touchstone, his comfort object. He continues to build the list throughout his life, on and off, in his own high moments and low moments.

Craig is magnificent. He’s funny, he’s wistful, he sprints around the stage like a puppy ready to play, he’s a hoot. His improv skills – no doubt honed by director Charmagne Chi in an amazing debut – are stellar and so smooth as he chats with the audience and engages the whole house in his deeply personal story.  He even pulled yours truly into a moment, not once but twice. (Sidebar: if you ever wondered if actors curry favor with reviewers to court a better review, that’s a big no. I mean…he called me old – twice! – in front of 100 people and well, so what if I am, but geez. And yet, I love him.) His more pensive, reflective moments still convey an energy and charm.

This is a charming, poignant, and engaging hour of theatre. While it’s primarily Craig on stage, he’s also in the audience a lot and audience members are brought to the stage for improv mini roles that are endearing and funny. One audience member is picked to be Mrs. Patterson, his elementary school counselor who speaks to troubled kids through a sock puppet. Yes, an audience member is charged with removing her sock on stage to embrace this important role.  

This work is a substantial departure from MacMillan’s other play recently on the Buffalo boards. His People, Places, and Things reprised by D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre earlier this year is a dark and authentic look substance abuse disorder and one woman’s journey to wellness.  While this show has its somber backstory, the focus is more on joy and appreciation for things large and small that keep us going.

The Second Generation team wisely engaged local agencies to table in the compact lobby bar and share resources. Representatives from these agencies also participate in Thursday post-show talkbacks. Full disclosure: when I’m not sitting in a theatre, I’m the Sr. Manager of Public Relations for Spectrum Health and Human Services, one of the sponsors of this outstanding production.  I love that this company took a risk on this production: its content is important and the presentation is well executed. Or in the words of author Margaret Atwood, “Hope is part of the human toolkit, along with the arts.”

The show is a fast-paced 60 minutes, no intermission, and you’ll leave with a tug in your heart for individuals who grapple with mental health issues every day…and perhaps a smile on your face for the WNY artistic community that reminds us that inspiration, help, and hope is all around us. Check out for tickets.

Also – sometimes even a million brilliant things aren’t enough. If you or someone you love is having suicidal ideations, call 988 for immediate intervention, or Spectrum Health’s 24/7 Help Line at 716 710 5172 or Crisis Services at 716 834 3131. There is always someone here for you.

BPO and ICTC Join Forces for a Storm Surge of Artistry

Irish Classical Theatre Company and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra built a beautiful model for collaboration with this series of theatre-set-to-music productions. The 2023 installment was Shakespeare’s The Tempest with Jean Sibelius’ incidental music and it was a lush and lavish visual and aural feast.

First of all, the music. It was stunning, and it helped advance the story in critical places. The soaring sounds in the brass told your ears that a ship was on treacherous seas. Pizzicato passages in the strings conveyed dramatic tension and the light moments in the woodwinds brought deliverance. Balancing the music against the story was essential to make the production fit into a two-hour performance footprint, too. Of course the orchestra under JoAnn Falletta’s baton got it right.

The theatrical side was a perfectly-cast delight. Gender bending Prospero to Prospera was a fine choice and  Aleks Malejs’s strong demeanor and velvety voice created an imposing persona. Yes, she could swirl the sea into a tempest, rule a country, demand the return of her power when thwarted, and raise a daughter, too. Hey, sometimes a sister has to show her brother who is really the boss. Prospera’s daughter Miranda is winsomely played by Sabrina Kahwaty, with a girlish charm overlaying her mom’s determination. Some of the region’s finest actors were hailed for the rest of the roles, too, sometimes against type, and forming a solid corps. Standouts were Marisa Caruso as the spritely Ariel, who leapt across the stage in a swirl of earthly colors. Kevin Craig (concurrently preparing for his solo performance in Second Generation Theatre’s Every Brilliant Thing opening this week) is Trinculo, the jester who is one of three Prospera enemies. Philip Farugia as the tipsy servant, Matt Witten as Prospera’s scheming brother Antonio who’s plotting with Sebastian (Todd Benzin) make a masterful albeit evil trio.

This was a substantial cast and production team, under the direction of Fortunato Pezzimenti. Vocal soloists and a choir of 10 (from the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus) sang back up, directed by Adam Luebke . The other force was the projection: sheer images of the sea and scenery were projected on the back of that lovely blonde wood stage, giving it a glimmer, a suggestion of the sea and the islandscape. David Dwyer and Jayson Clark as set and light designer respectively told the right amount of visual story here. Vivian DelBello’s costuming was elegant, as was Susan Drozd’s makeup and hair design.

Collaborations like these are testament to the gestalt of Western New York’s arts community: come together in strength and emerge even stronger. This partnership is laudable. Regrettably, time and expense make these limited engagements, but it’s gratifying to know that they endure for another year. Congratulations to the musicians, singers, actors, and production artists – and the administrators who raise the funds and program the seasons – for these gifts.

Show your support for both entities by visiting their websites ( and, attending their regular performances, and contributing to their successful seasons.

Suspense on Stage at RLTP

Remember “Long Distance Call,” that episode of the incredible and timeless TV classic The Twilight Zone, where Billy Mumy’s grandmother gives him a play telephone and then she dies the next day? Whenever he picks up the phone, his grandma is talking to him.  The Thin Place, the new production at Road Less Traveled Theater, is as riveting and haunting as that 1961 episode. Maybe even moreso. Yes, I checked the backseat of my car before I got in after the show.

This is the WNY premiere of another work by lucas hnath and it breaks the fourth wall (while storytelling about the fifth dimension) in a way that is his signature style. As the story begins, house lights are up for several minutes as Hilda (Renee Landrigan) holds a cup of tea and starts talking about her grandma and their special relationship. Grandma was encouraging Hilda to see with her third eye, the one that is just behind her ‘seeing’ eyes, where communication is more felt than heard. Hilda’s mom called this satanic and demonic and banned Grandma from her home. Yet the lessons resonated with Hilda who would often sit quietly by candlelight to attempt to communicate with her grandma after she passed.

Hilda is an adult now, no longer living with her mom, when she meets Linda (Margaret Massman), a spiritual medium and she is captivated. They become friends and she soon meets others in Linda’s earthly circle, Sylvia (Kristen Tripp Kelley) and Jerry (David Mitchell), well-heeled jetsetters who have a different perspective on Linda’s ‘gift.’

Wow. Sounds like a simple parlor drama/relationship story, right? Nope. There are layers of story in here and piles of theatre magic wonderfully executed by the production team. Dyan Burlingame’s set is deceptively simple and Diane Almeter Jones’ props are the same. John Rickus does some creepy-good things with lighting; delaying and slowing the dimming of the house lights, cutting the stage lights (the theatre companion and I disagree on the critical duration of this black out. He says no more than :45 and I maintain it was a good 2:00 that I clutched his hand in terror). Sound Designer Katie Menke had some off-stage shattering and clattering to create, too.

Landrigan as Hilda ran the full emotional gamut, from almost shy to very knowing. This was an elegant performance. Massman was clever, convincing, mystical as the medium who was….or wasn’t. Tripp Kelley was easy to detest as the ‘friend’ with a jealous streak, and Mitchell brought a keen balance to this trio of women in complicated places.

All this was brought together by director Scott Behrend who let the strength of this content guide the simplicity of its presentation. This production is flawless, stop to finish, with its exquisite combination of story, actors, and production.

What I loved most about reading the playbill (yes, an actual book on paper with ink already) was reading about RLTP’s Bridge Program which has a college and high school student engaged in the production alongside working professionals. Best wishes to Brenda Bridges and Liam Rio respectively as you learn from the best in the business. I also loved the insert that had the story behind the story.

The Thin Place runs a gripping 90-minutes, with no intermission which would have broken the suspense and taken you away from a place beyond here and the beyond.  Find tickets and other info at

Hadestown at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The North American Tour of Hadestown. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

If Hadestown proves anything to the audience, it’s that music is power….and so is silence. Hadestown opened at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre last evening and continues to run through February 26th. This was my first time seeing the show, but I was no stranger to the music and the story. Back around 2017/2018 when the original live cast recording of Hadestown came out, I was quickly hooked on the intensity of its music and the mythological backing of the tale. After listening to the soundtrack on repeat for ages, I knew this was a show I had to see when I got the chance. Alas, Covid ruined my previous plans of seeing Hadestown on Broadway and so my first live experience of the stage production was at Shea’s last evening. 

If you aren’t familiar with mythology, I would highly recommend doing some research prior to attending the show to give you a better understanding and appreciation of the story. Thankfully, Shea’s Playbill does include a bit of background information on page 24 if you need a quick refresher. The show centers around the story of Eurydice (Hannah Whitley) and Orpheus (Chibueze Ihuoma) while also referencing the tale of Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn) and Persephone (Brit West). The story is narrated by none other than Hermes (Nathan Lee Graham), the messenger himself. Orpheus is a poor boy who also happens to be the son of a Muse. He possesses a great musical talent with the ability to charm, persuade, and inspire others with his voice and lyre. He falls in love with Eurydice who is a poor girl with a troubled past and little to live for. Their love creates the hope that Orpheus’ music will be able to provide for them all that money cannot and that the winds of fate will be kind. When Persephone is taken back to the underworld by Hades too soon, the world above returns to winter and times are tough for the poor couple. Orpheus promises to finish a song that will return seasons back to order. In the meantime, Eurydice is left to fend for herself facing cold, hunger, and misery. In her desperation, she strikes a deal with Hades to take her away from the pain of life and provide her with a home and a purpose in the underworld. Once Orpheus realizes she is gone, he embarks on a journey to bring her home that ends up being more challenging than he could ever imagine.

Music is a central part of this show, not only because it is a musical, but because Orpheus’ gift centers around music and the power it holds. Orpheus’ pieces throughout the show are no easy feat. His character is considered a high tenor, but so much more is required of the vocalist who portrays him. Ihuoma’s falsetto soars above the audience and leaves us in awe of how he can have such an incredible range. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Hades whose notes feel as though they are as low as the depths of hell. The contrast between his bass and Orpheus’ tenor is truly beautiful symbolism. Quinn is known for his portrayal of villains, which makes a lot of sense once you hear the capabilities of his voice. As I mentioned before, going along with the power of music in this production is also the power of silence. I can’t remember the last time I witnessed silences of such great lengths in a musical. They carry so much weight and bring immense meaning to character interactions. Once a note finally cuts through the silence, you truly feel it cut through your soul and make the impact the music was meant to. 

My personal favorite piece in the show is “Wait for Me”. This has always been my most repeated track when listening to the album and it did not disappoint with its impact in the show. The staging and choreography for this song is incredibly powerful and unique, utilizing work lights and contrasting light and darkness. It is truly a show-stopper and created endless applause so intense that some who were unfamiliar with the show got up thinking it must be intermission. Wrong. It’s just that extraordinary. 

None of the roles featured in Hadestown are easy to portray by any means and they all require such tenacity and raw talent from the performers that I have no idea how they are able to deliver this caliber of performance day after day. Brit West takes you on an emotional roller-coaster through her portrayal of Persephone and has such a vast range of vocal ability. Hannah Whitley as Eurydice is also a power house and has some featured riffs that really bring the house down. Nathan Lee Graham as Hermes really connects with the audience and is very likeable and comical with his delivery. 

Something else I really appreciated was the little details in the costuming. Hades has a sleeve tattoo that looks like bricks and represents the wall he builds in Hadestown. Persephone has 2 dresses that are exactly the same in cut and style but one is bright green for when she is on earth in the spring and summer and the other is black for the underworld. Hermes has small feathers on the cuffs of his jacket to pay homage to his winged-foot mythology counterpart.

I don’t think Hadestown is meat for a casual theatre-goer. I think it is meant for those willing to understand and appreciate the complexity of the story and the music it contains. You should be somewhat aware of what you’re walking into and know that this is contemporary theatre which is a completely different vibe and encounter than classical musicals. Let yourself get lost in the beauty and power of music and love with a theatrical experience like none other. 

Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission

For more information, click here.

Sir Andrew’s Back in Town at MusicalFare

It takes a lot of stage presence to command a stage solo for more than an hour. And that’s exactly what Leah Berst does in Tell Me on a Sunday, onstage now at MusicalFare Theatre.

Berst has the power (and the chops) to sing her way through this Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black one-woman song cycle. They wrote it in 1979, post Webber’s Evita, and the original plan was for it to be a TV program. Perhaps Sir Webber was still Rainbow High-weary; outside of the title song and the familiar tune “An Unexpected Song,” the melodies are Webber-predictable and the story is fairly flat.

That’s not to say that Berst isn’t commanding and outstanding on stage: she’s fantastic. It’s the script that doesn’t rise to her level, sadly.

In brief, Berst’s unnamed character leaves her home in the UK for New York City and love. That love fails, so it’s on to someone new. And then someone new and younger And then someone in California.. And then someone new and married. In between, she’s emailing her mum, getting angry at girlfriends, endeavoring to earn her green card, while remaining a hopeful romantic.

There are some fun moments. The repetitive “It’s Not the End of the World” (If I Lose Him, If He’s Younger, If He’s Married) is clever. Berst pours her heart into “Come Back With The Same Look in Your Eyes” and it’s lovely. Her self-righteous anger in “Let Me Finish” is classic break up material. She maintains her optimism with “Dreams Never Run On Time.” Le sigh…

Therese Quinn assembled a fine back up band, with Larry Albert on guitar, Jim Celeste on drums, Mike Moser on bass, Jim Runfola on woodwinds, and Gail Bauser playing cello which is absolutely lovely against Berst’s high range voice. Chris Cavanagh’s set is eye appealing and he uses some fun videos that help move the flimsy story along. It was fun to see other actors in video cameos, almost like a “Where’s Waldo of Buffalo Theatre.”

What I appreciate best about this show is its brevity: an hour and 10 minutes with no intermission. If COVID did one good thing for theatre, it’s the new emphasis on shorter productions. The Theatre Companion and I arrived early enough to enjoy good conversation in the Cabaret and lingered a few minutes post-show to enjoy Quinn and Randy Kramer getting four hands on the piano. It’s always great fun at MusicalFare.

I’m no fan of digital programs (I know…it saves money, it is contact-less, more to read on your own time…I get it), but I do love MusicalFare’s super creative use of the in-theatre video monitors before the program. Nell Mohn, Director of Strategic Development, was informative and entertaining in her video which explained the valueand need for fundraising. As a recovering fundraiser, I love and respect her enthusiasm for this challenging work.

Tell Me on a Sunday runs to March 19: visit for tickets and details.

A World Premiere at Alleyway

The connection between a mom and her daughter can run deep. Especially when it’s only the two of you, you’re tight in each other’s orbit, your worlds intersect in inextricable ways. And that is Nicky and Naomi, the mother-daughter duo at the heart of The Aleph Complex, now on stage at Alleyway Theatre.

This is a new play, a world premiere, winner of the 2020 Maxim Mazumdar New Play Award. It’s quirky, original, and unexpectedly thought-provoking in the way that it lingered and niggled in my head.

Nicky Stamats (“my last name is a palindrome,” she said by introduction (played by Caroline Kolasny) is a twitchy and anxious college freshman, an English major who is using shadow puppets in a class presentation. As midterms loom, her inner heart-voice calls her home to mom (Sara Kow-Falcone), a designer who hasn’t left her apartment in five years. Their anxieties co-mingle: Nicky escaped a major milestone in her first months away from mom while Naomi was happily in her solitary safe space. Nicky’s coping mechanism is to imagine trapping her fears in plastic boxes (conveniently, she had worked at The Container Store) where they become more cope-able sounds. She’s convinced she can help her mom by grabbing up some self-help books from the last Borders store on the planet, located in the same strip plaza as her former employer. It’s there that she meets a bookseller (Josh Wilde) with his own issues: he can’t leave his store. He lives in his store. His store and its contents haunt him and hurt him. Yet in the backroom, there is the Aleph, his version of the time-space continuum portal (Think of the backroom of the diner in Stephen King’s 11/22/63.) Nicky and Borders Guy are drawn to each other; Nicky shares a treasured photo she found of her mom, backpacking through Europe in her youth and their unspoken wonder of ‘what happened’ is wistful, palpable. She also knits him a sweater with one loose yarn; there’s lots of metaphor here. Yarn is another word for story. Strings hold us together and can also let us go.

There’s more to this richly layered and nuanced story. Inspired by Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges’ writings, there are metaphors galore and a myriad of mysticism against a backdrop of anxious emotions.

If this all sounds a little ‘out there,’ it is. The characters are endearing and the actors are solid in their roles. Kow-Falcone is especially interesting; we’re used to seeing her portray strong, empowered women, and here she’s more comfortable with shadow puppets than people. Kolasny and Wilde will be terrific to watch in future roles.

The set is nothing short of spectacular. First off, it’s huge, and uses every bit of Alleyway’s compact stage. Lynne Koscielniak and Nicholas Taboni built a two-level masterpiece that combined Naomi’s apartment, The Container Store, and Borders in one place. There’s some charming theatre magic crafted by puppet designer Caitlin McLeod to depict movement between Naomi’s apartment and the stores, too. Aaron Bowersox and Hudson Waldrop had oodles of light and sound cues respectively to craft and manage that added some of the more dreamlike moments.  The visual and aural experience underscored some of the more poignant points of playwright Deborah Yarchun’s story and locked it into a good place.  

All told, The Aleph Complex is the kind of interesting theatre that is Alleyway’s hallmark. Get there before it closes March 4. The show runs just under two hours with one intermission. Visit for details and tickets.

The Mai on Stage at ICTC

“I’m not drunk, I’m trapped.”

That single line sums up the key to The Mai, presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company. Playwright Marina Carr examines the lives of seven women over four generations, each with their triumphs and tragedies that knit their family story.

The Mai (Kate LoConti Alcocer) is at the center: a mom and educator, she loves Robert her philandering husband (Chris Avery) , even when he takes off for five years and comes home with promises ne’er to be kept. Sisters Beck (Cassie Cameron) and Connie (Megan Callahan)  have their own struggles as they come and go from the lovely lakeside house The Mai built for her kids while Robert is pursuing his career and diversions. Grandma Fraochlan (Pamela Rose Mangus) tells her heirs hearfelt stories about their Mum’s short life and wistful stories of her late husband, the nine-fingered fisherman, between glasses of Mulberry wine and pulls on her pipe. Aunts Julie (Mary Moebius) and Agnes (Lisa Ludwig) in turn gossip and judge and ground this family as they keep a close hold on their practical handbags. It’s up to The Mai’s daughter Millie (Christine Turturro) as narrator to tell this story of her family, her legacy, and her future from her perspective. A clever plot device, Millie is both on the periphery and central to this story as she reflects on the dynamics that created the life she is yet to lead. And yes, they are all trapped, either by circumstances or in their memories or their designs for living. Even globe-trotting, bed-hopping Robert is trapped by his choices and questionable decisions.

It’s not a story laced with joy; while there are plenty of laughable moments, it’s The Mai’s overwhelming sadness that she’s not living the life she deserves that guides this story. Sure Grandma is a hoot; Magnus plays her to the hilt, with a scarlet ribbon holding back her tumble of grey curls, as she repeats the same stories about the men of her past and the one who captured her heart. Every family has Aunts like Agnes and Julie, and Moebius and Ludwig are perfection in these roles, with a look here, a comment there, and waning patience with their mother’s ramblings. Alcocer’s anguish pervades, even in the seemingly happy moment when Robert returns home with flowers, her favorite perfume and drink as peace offerings. Aye but the promise of fidelity you don’t quite hear is swiftly broken and his stern dressing down of his bride for having the audacity to criticize his latest girlfriend is exquisitely evidenced on Alcocer’s drawn face. Turturro’s finely nuanced narration ties all this together. She’s neither apologetic or condemning of her family story; she fills in the story between the story pragmatically yet with heart. I found myself watching her expressions (sometimes more than the central action) from her off-to-the-side position on set; she was actively taking it all in and processing as she watched the family story unfold. She bears responsibility for the next generation of this complex family.

Director Josephine Hogan made superb casting choices across the board with this stellar cast.  I always admire ICTC’s well-designed sets with bits and pieces of architectural elements suggesting walls and ceilings. Collin Ranney set designer was lovely and Jayson Clark’s lighting design had some subtle moments, too, with lingering illuminations at intermission and the final scene. There might have been some sound challenges the night I was in the house: Robert’s off-stage cello “playing” sounded tinny and truly canned (or perhaps that was sound designer Tom Makar’s intention to distort the usually elegant sound of this instrument to underscore Robert’s lack of humanity for his family.)

The Mai may make you chuckle in moments (seriously, I love Mangus as the grandmother and all her endearing quirks) but mostly you’ll leave disheartened that relationships fail, sad that hurting pervades the human condition, and wistful that sometimes family love is hard to feel.

The Mai is onstage to February 5: visit Run time is a little over two hours with a 15-minute intermission.