Well, who doesn’t want to stand up and shout “I am fabulous” when you’re on the brink of turning 50 and you just figured out that your husband doesn’t really like your homemade cookies?
That’s Ellen’s story, the leading mama in Donna Hoke’s “Sons & Lovers,” opening BUA’s 25th anniversary season. She and Butch are married for almost 30 years and their only child is Bill, a 20-something waiter/actor who has a secret thing going on with Marq. Seems that the rest of the family knows that Bill is gay….except Ellen. There were plenty of hints (“He got into my makeup once and made such a mess, but he was so cute who could get mad at him,” she gushes), and while dad caught on early and grandma gave him a pretty out there gift, Ellen just never put the pieces together.
It’s Hoke’s words that sparkle and shine.
It took her big birthday (“50 is the new 30,” her son tells her) and her husband’s infidelity to put Ellen in touch with herself and her son, too.
Hoke’s script handles three heavy family bombshells (banner birthdays aren’t always easy, the apple-in-your-eye only child veering from mainstream, and infidelity) with a light touch. This is really a character story, and every last one is endearing (well, except for Butch. Nobody likes a cheater). Even Bill’s coming out is more about timing than content.
Playwright Hoke created the role of Ellen for veteran BUA actress Caitlin Baeumler Coleman: she’s charming and authentic as she frets about her round figure and graying hair. If she’s overplaying her exaggerated facial expressions, maybe it’s so she can play all the way to the back of the house.
Steve Brachmann is the perfect choice for Bill: handsome, vulnerable, and irate when he learns his Marq strayed (at the gym, no less), his finest moment is when his mom badgers him naively about the second toothbrush in his bathroom (it’s for scrubbing the grout, he claims).
Dave Granville and A. Peter Snodgrass play multiple roles with level, even aplomb. Granville’s Butch is road-weary and properly bland as the husband with a midlife crisis fling in his conscience. He’s hysterically funny as a French waiter and an Italian statue-come-to-life romantic at the Trevi fountain. Snodgrass deadpans his character Marq’s verbal lapses perfectly: Marq is a kindergarten teacher who sometimes weaves words like ‘doody head’ into his speech, even telling Bill that “he should have given himself a time out” instead of fooling around with the gym owner. Like Granville, he easily slips into his extra roles as campy hair stylist and hot waiter.
Director Todd Fuller uses the small stage as best he can, with actors scurrying through the house to offstage. They worked hard to change out set pieces between scenes. A couple audio cues were off (don’t answer the phone until it actually rings) were only minor disturbances.
It’s Hoke’s words that sparkle and shine. While coming out is no walk in the park, she lets Bill’s reluctance reveal and then resolve itself without becoming cliché. She nudges her characters to mirror Bill’s strength. Afterall, “life is all about taking chances.”
Running Time: 80 minutes with no intermission.
“Sons & Lovers” runs until October 1, 2017, is produced by Buffalo United Artists, and is presented at Main Street Cabaret. For more information, click here.