Families and Cultures Clash in Tribes

Families and cultures: sometimes they connect and sometimes they don’t. Tribes, now on stage at Road Less Traveled Theatre, makes that point very clear.

Playwright Nina Raine crafted an interesting take on a family story. Parents and two of the three adult children are so wrapped up in their own orbits that they chose not to meet youngest son Billy in his unique culture. Billy was born deaf and his family’s choice was to fit him with hearing aids, teach him to read lips, and expect him to fit in. But those who live with a hearing impairment have their own culture, their own way of expressing themselves, that is different from hearing culture. This family, instead of embracing it, shut it down and the consequence is that Billy’s life has its arc. In this family unit, he is often the observer to their twisted family dynamic.

It took me a while and some reflecting to embrace this production for the fine work that it is. At face value, it’s a study in narcissism for the parents and a “finding their way” study for the older siblings. Act one is full of shouting. But it’s also clear that no one – except Billy – is actively listening to the words and the spaces between. Through the high decibel dialogue we meet oldest son Daniel (Johnny Barden) who is writing his thesis on how language is used, while getting over a break up, smoking pot, and dealing increasing levels of mental illness. Younger sister Ruth (Anna Krempholtz) is an aspiring singer who is struggling to launch her career in opera. Mother Beth (Margaret Massman) is trying to write a novel and patriarch Christopher (David Marciniak) is an academic learning Chinese…often wearing a headset when he’s not yelling and swearing. Billy (Dave Wantuck) has just moved home from university. He begins attending Deaf social event where he meets Sylvia (Melinda Capeles) and is drawn to her lively personality and connection to the Deaf community. She was raised by Deaf parents and is fluent in sign language.  It’s her story that adds more depth to the script: she is losing her hearing – as did her sister, a genetic malady – and through her we learn the difference between being deaf and learning how to be Deaf.

Capeles is remarkable in her role. The vibrance of her Artie Award-winning role in La Lupe: My Life, My Destiny from 2019 is tempered with a different kind of passion here. She’s caring, intense, and frightened by the changes in her life. She’s a good foil for Wantuck (who is new to the professional stage and quite remarkable here): where his character is ill at ease, she’s comfortable and accepting. One of the finest scenes is in act two when – for a brief few minutes – we share Billy’s point of view, thanks to a shift in sound design and lighting , expertly crafted by sound designer Katie Menke and lighting designer John Rickus.

Director Doug Zschiegner wove in exquisite layers of nuance with the dialogue and how it’s delivered. Many moments in act two are signed: subtitles on projection screens share the dialogue. The contrast between acts one and two is well handled and effective.

While it’s a struggle to fine anything likeable in the parents and sister Ruth, the interplay between Daniel and Billy and their complicated relationship is compelling. The brother who is studying language and the brother caught between two distinct communications modalities create the heart of Raine’s script. Daniel’s struggle with mental illness and the return of his childhood stutter are powerful backstories that further emphasize this family’s dysfunction.

A strong, solid cast, an introspection on how we communicate, and love story that struggles to hold on to love….Tribes is complex and well crafted by this expert cast and crew.

Tribes runs a little more than two hours with a 10 minute intermission and is onstage to March 27. Find tickets and details at http://www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org.

31st Annual Buffalo Quickies

What’s not to love about 31 years of Buffalo Quickies at Alleyway Theatre? This is an annual showcase for (mostly) new short plays and a versatile team of local actors who take on several roles in a jam-packed evening. From angry drivers, to chickens facing mortality, to Bills fans, or activists, Buffalo Quickies is a stretch night for the actors and audience a like; with seven short shows, there’s an always a hit and a miss, and it’s all part of the fun. Director Chris J Handley picked an interesting rundown this year and the acting and production team fit it all well.

The evening started with Buffalo Porno, a look into our region’s film production future. Actors Matthew Rittler and Colleen Pine are voice-over actors for ‘adult’ films produced in Tonawanda. There’s one concern from the audience: their accents. “We don’t have aaaaaacccents!” Pine’s character exclaims, as Kate Olena, representing the Canadian production company, gently tries to soften those edgy vowels.

Next up, The Great Steven Stravinsky, is a backyard magic show where the sibling agita can’t be tamped down. Olena is back as the pre-teen love interest with Michael Starzynski and Joey Bucheker as the bickering brothers. This was my miss of the night: I’m not a fan of magic acts or adults portraying children, although this trio gives it a good go. Olena is charming and sweet, Starzynski is committed with perfecting his craft in the throes of adolescence, and Bucheker wins at being the annoying kid brother.

The Commune of Mutual Aid and Education for the People by Angela Davis with Special Guest J.Edgar Hoover has Rachel Diana Henderson as Davis hosting a Mister Rogers-like narrative where social justice is the message. Instead of a cozy cardigan, she doffs her weapons for a funky fringed vest and slips off her boots for bunny slippers. Adam Kreutinger’s puppets are the special guests in the puppet theatre.

Pine and Rittler are star and stargazer who get caught in an elevator in Never Let Go.  Yes, romance can spark when an elevator cable snaps, while the security guard is angry with a pizzeria delivery and the SWAT rescuer is open to suggestions.

Bumper to Bumper is the longest short of the night and this one is rich with four stories the could easily interweave into a full production. Three cars are among many stuck on an expressway. Rittler is the potty-mouth driver who lashes out with violent threats. Bucheker and Henderson are not-so-newlyweds on their way to a romantic weekend where they hope to rekindle their love and work past some festering issues. Starzynski and Olena are the older married couple who remember love’s depth. Pine is perfection as their sassy daughter who keeps all three cars in check.

In Chicken is Condemned to be Free, Olena and Starzynski are clucking around like two chickens with their heads cut off…literally. There they are, on the side of the stage. I loved Olena’s restless circling and how Starzynski deftly interjected squawks into his sentences. Todd Warfield’s chicken costumes are outstanding. Playwright Jessie Jae Hoon weaves some thoughtful inside about immortality into the humor. Ironically, this is the show that will linger with you after you leave.

The evening ends with Seventeen: The (Unofficial) Josh Allen Musical, written by Philip Farugia and Amy Jakiel. This is a hoot, with music and dancing to boot. Bucheker and Rittler as online gamers track down Josh Allen and challenge him to a game. This was a fun way to end the night.

Alleyway does a fine job keeping this tradition alive and it’s good to have it anchored into the Buffalo theatre season. Each actor had his own moment to shine, too, proving that every role matters, large or small. I will admit again that I loved how innovative the team was for season 30, when in the midst of COVID, Quickies was staged as a Main Street walking tour. While I’m sure last year was a logistical nightmare to plan and implement, it is landmark in my memory as an exemplary theatre experience.

That being said, Buffalo Quickies 31 is a fine night, a little longer than two hours, with a brief intermission to enjoy the snazzy lobby.  It’s onstage to March 19; find details at http://www.alleyway.com.

American Rhapsody is Beautiful Music

George Gershwin’s iconic “Rhapsody in Blue” was an orchestral celebration of the American cultural melting pot when it debuted in 1924. The exquisite blending of jazz with a strong nod to classical music is still beloved for its syncopated rhythms (Gershwin said it was inspired by the clicks and clacks of trains) and its soaring, melodic themes. MusicalFare artistic/executive director Randy Kramer parlayed that inspiration with one of his own in American Rhapsody, onstage now. Kramer developed his concept into a 90-minute story counterpointed with such outstanding musicianship.

Admittedly, the story is thin with some unsettling undertones: a classically trained pianist (Kramer) wants to deepen his understanding of Rhapsody in Blue prior to performance, so he pays a jazz pianist and club owner (Richard Satterwhite) to join him in his “piano room” (a baby grand and a less than grand upright) for a conversation of sorts. “I just thought we’d play for each other,” couches the classical pianist as he sits at his shiny instrument, leaving the jazz man to the upright. Jazz man was having none of that, and proceeds to share quotes and insights about America in the ‘20s, the people who were making music then…and how and why the notes came together. It’s not racism, perhaps just race ignorance that kept the classical pianist from seeing jazz man’s points at first. Jazz man picks books off the shelf and reads quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other luminaries and is surprised at how much the classical pianist doesn’t know about how music is really ‘made.’ And there’s the heart of our story.

Jazz man’s readings and reflection come to life as the beautifully constructed stage set – the work of Chris Cavanagh –  turns into an early 20th century music lesson, performed by Stevie Jackson, Dwayne Stephenson, Davida Evette Tolbert, and Josh Wilde. Their songs take us from Spirituals to the earliest Stephen Foster ditties, to Scott Joplin’s rags to timeless tunes of Irving Berlin, WC Handy, and Eubie Blake: their performances are visual and aural delights. The highlight: Tolbert’s “St. Louis Blues” was belted out to perfection and her Art Deco beaded gown was just as stunning. Who doesn’t love a fascinator with a feather? Good work, costumer Kari Drozd. Cavanagh made stage magic happen when the picture window of the ‘piano room’ morphs into a stage for the singing quartet. He used some familiar and fun lighting techniques, too, to bring silhouette forms to life.

At one point, jazz man is pretty fed up by classical pianist and seemingly storms out…which sends the classical pianist to the keyboard and a passionate performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C# minor.” Jazz man is still listening…and that’s their breakthrough moment.

Spoiler alert: the performance ends with Kramer’s lovely rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue.” While you miss the familiar orchestra part, Kramer (with off stage support from music director/pianist Theresa Quinn, Jim Runfola, and Ron Paladino) is an extraordinary pianist and watching him play all night was a delight.

Kramer’s piano playing, the set, the costumes, and the snippets of American music history make American Rhapsody a good night in the theatre. It’s a fast moving one act, no intermission, and it’s onstage now to March 27. Find tickets and details at www.musicalfare.com. You’ll like it as much as a school boy loves his pie.

The Treasurer is Rich With Emotion at JRT

Near the end of The Treasurer, on stage now at Jewish Repertory Theatre’s Maxine and Robert Seller Theatre in Getzville,  the titular character reminds the audience that people don’t determine the length of their lives. While that may be debatable (spoiler alert: there are some suicidal ideations in the story), people can and do determine how their lives will be lived.

For Ida Klein Armstrong, that means she will live a life of excesses that are beyond her meager means and it’s her three sons (products of her first marriage) who are keeping her in the manner she believes she deserves…in a combination of duty, guilt, and -perhaps – some residual love.

This is strong stuff in playwright Max Posner’s script. While there are a few (precious few) moments that may bring a smile, this is a piece that may ring too close to home for some.  Another spoiler: see it anyway. Let it gnaw your conscience and redirect your senses. Perhaps make you better at loving and compassion, even when hoisting your own baggage.

That being said, the cast for this production is remarkable. David Lundy is the son who bears the burden of his mother’s life and takes control of her finances.  He’s the lead storyteller and in this way, the show is his 90-minute non-stop monologue.  He’s expressive, he’s fierce, he’s prescient in describing his own eventual demise, and while some corner of his heart may hold some love for his mom, the reality of dealing with her life choices over time occupies more space there. The subtle moment when he tosses the obligatory “love you” goodbye to his mom – as she says “I love you” and repeatedly asks him to “add the I” – is followed by a string of “I” statements. Yes, this son chooses where to insert a pronoun.  Poignant script writing here and Lundy’s execution is marvelous.

Darleen Pickering Hummer is Ida the mom. Charming and loveable to store clerks and telemarketers (and the sons who still feel the wounds of her earlier abandonment),  she is also manipulative and demanding. And then dementia begins robbing her mind and judgment.   Pickering Hummert’s performance is exquisite in its inherent sadness and bewilderment as the life she had is leaving her. While she’s superbly acting this role, there’s that jolt of reality that reminds us that her situation – the loneliness, humiliation, dependence on her sons, the loss of her faculties – is all too real. Her gorgeously expressive face will linger in your thoughts.

John Kreuzer  and Alexandria Watts appear in a variety of supporting roles, as store clerks and siblings and a particular significant other, both flexing their versatility chops in all good ways.  As always, they are joys to watch on stage.

In one brief scene, the son and one of Watts’ characters meet on a plane and off-handedly discuss Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. In reflection, The Treasurer is a bit of a nod to this story, where the son is the reluctant caregiver to his mom and her delusions.

Set designer David Dwyer kept the stage pristine, as is JRT’s wont.  Single and strategically placed chairs and a table were all that was needed.  Tom Makar dropped in some well-timed ambient noises when Lundy described his character’s bike riding, and Brian Cavanagh’s lighting punctuated key moments.  Director Saul Elkin knit these bits together to be stark, strongly emotional, and the kind of theatre that is occupying your head hours after you leave.

The Treasurer runs 90 minutes long with no intermission until February 27.  Find information and ticketing at https://www.jccbuffalo.org/jrt/.

Irish Classical Live Season Opens With Waiting for Godot

Ah, Waiting for Godot, a mainstay in high school English classes. The source of plenty of teen angst on the night before the paper is due (Is it an allegory? A series of metaphors? A prayer because it anagrams to To God?) while delving deep into playwright Samuel Beckett’s psyche.

Now on stage at the Andrews Theatre, this skillful production by Irish Classical Theatre Company is a charmingly ironic choice for the launch of a new season. Indeed we were all waiting for the day we could return to live theatre, and this was the show – more than 30 years ago –that launched ICTC in Buffalo. For that, we are most fortunate.

This production features ICTC founder Vincent O’Neill as Vladimir and Brian Mysliwy as Estragon as they wait for the mysterious Godot. They’re funny, they’re poignant, they’re introspective, and most of all….they are patient as they wait. Even their impatience has a languid sort of urgency to it. They’re waiting because they have no place else to go, but they’re frantic because Godot the divine cannot be missed. Their wait is interrupted in act one when the lofty Pozzo (Todd Benzin) arrives with manservant Lucky (Ben Michael Moran). Moran steals the first act by his very presence. He’s damaged in spirit and in body, yet he’s the quietly loyal man in service.  Pozzo and Lucky intrude on act two as well; this time the passage of time has taken Pozzo’s sight and Lucky’s voice. The only other actor – Jackson Snodgrass as The Boy – delivers the same message twice: Godot is not coming today, perhaps tomorrow. And still we wait. Because sometimes a story is just a story, no other agenda.

I am fond of the Andrews house and the versatility and utility of the stage. Set designer Paul Bostaph makes clever use of the space with the focal point tree, missing its midsection so the audience has sightlines. Drab in color, like the disheveled wardrobe on Vladimir and Estragon and the snappiness of Pozzo, the set is the perfectly plain backdrop for words that banter and provoke.

Director and Dialect coach Josephine Hogan had the gold standard cast for this. She kept the patter on point, perhaps a bit too well. My plebian ears struggled at times.

It was a grand way to launch a live season again in a venerable house that never disappoints. Waiting for Godot runs two hours with a brief intermission and is onstage until February 13. Visit www.irishclassical.com for details and tickets.

He’s Back!: Hamilton Returns to Shea’s

In a recent interview in Yankee Magazine, historian Jill Leppore said that a lot of what we call history is really folklore , myth, or tourism.  Perhaps that’s one scholar’s cynicism, but projects like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton (inspired by historian Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton book) puts a fired-up version of history at center stage.

Hamilton is onstage now at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre until January 2, and it’s still daring, dynamic, and very entertaining.  Miranda is a master storyteller, as good as any historian. Pile on the music, lyrics, and fresh interpretation of real people we’ve never met, and you have an amazing work, worthy of every accolade it earned. This is A. Ham’s second tour through Buffalo and it remains a hot ticket and great night of theatre.

Miranda’s nod to our Founding Fathers and the American Revolution is terrific fun. Maybe it’s history light and not everyone will love the beats and the racial and gender mashups, but based on casual observation only, the audience is just as eclectic as the cast.  And the abundance of loud applause and audible audience sing-alongs signal a hit: history is super cool with music and dancing. (Yes, sing alongs. A couple times on stage when the assembled cast is told to “sing along,” this audience chimed in, too. It was fun.)

To recap, Alexander Hamilton, “The Foxiest of the Federalists,” according to a t-shirt I saw, was George Washington’s right hand, a lead writer of the Federalist Papers, the founder of the Coast Guard and creator the U.S. financial system…and was a loving husband, father, and occasional philanderer. He wasn’t without his share of frenemies (being brash, brilliant, and full of himself will do that), among them his rival-for-notoriety Aaron Burr. The rest of the story er history is the crux of the plot, so no spoilers here.

History and its iterations aside, the production is astonishing. Miranda took the high notes from Chernow’s book, put a series of driving beats under them, and created a layered and nuanced experience rich with details.  If it’s rap that drives the music, the stage movement and choreography create a stunning visual. Dance moves are athletic and full out powerful, yet there are subtle gestures and bold poses that you can see from Shea’s back wall. A little flick of fingers gives enough emphasis to move this story.  This is a show based on details and no one skimps.

This is a large, rotating cast. The performance I saw had Pierre Jean Gonzalez as Hamilton, the smooth voiced Jared Dixon as Burr, and Marcus Choi as Washington. Dixon’s voice was like listening to velvet drape itself over you.  It was captivating. Up against Warren Egypt Franklin (Jefferson and Lafayette) with his quirky, edgy voice the songs like “What’d I Miss” were even more lively. The sweetest ensemble singing though belonged to the Schuyler Sisters (Meecah, Ta’Rea Campbell, and Paige Smallwood as Eliza, Angelica, and Peggy respectively). Campbell’s Angelica was fierce. Meecah’s Eliza has the sweetness that burns under the surface. Her finale – down to the oft-debated gasp and grasp – was heartbreaking and beautiful.

Buffalo native Neil Haskell as King George owns his stage time for sure. His snarly curled lip and well-enunciated words bring the requisite audience hoots and howls. Plus he’s one of our own, gotta love it.

Even if you saw the road show here three years ago, or in NYC, see it again. Each production team embellishes the goodness with some new twists and you’ll see new things that you missed the first time around. Sure, you know the story and how it ends, but it’s the way the story is told that is compelling.

Hamilton runs almost three hours with an 18-minute intermission. Bring your ID and vaccination card and please keep your mask on. Shea’s is doing its bit to keep audiences safe and comfortable:  we owe it to our fellow theatre lovers to respect the process.

When you go, there’s a slip-sheet in the program about the annual fund drive for Broadway Cares. Traditionally this was done with actors in the lobby after the performance: COVID contact has made this a quick QR code scan and e-gift.

Get details and tickets at http://www.sheas.org.

All is Calm is Elegant at MusicalFare

It’s odd to think that the true spirit of Christmas – a wish for peace on Earth and  goodwill to all peoples – can be found in a story about war. But that is the essence of  All is Calm, now onstage at MusicalFare Theatre.

It’s a real story taken from a moment in World War I history. In the first few months of the war (“we thought it would be over by Christmas,” is an oft-repeated line in the show), British soldiers were acclimating to life in the trenches in that most frightening location of The Great War: No Man’s Land. Something happened on Christmas night, 1914: British soldiers on the Western Front heard singing and saw flickering lights coming from the German troops.  They bravely crossed this chasm of battle and joined in with carols of their own. Weapons were laid down, beverages, snacks, and stories were shared, language and cultural barriers were set aside. The men declared their own unofficial Christmas truce that lasted but a few days and was ne’er repeated again.  Playwright Peter Rothstein captured the simple elegance of this snapshot of humanity with this script.

If the story sounds familiar, you’re either a student of world history, you paid attention to the stories told by your grandparents, or you were in the Subversive Theatre Collective Audience in 2014 to see local writer Gary Earl Ross’ take on the same story, The Guns of Christmas.(Hat tip to the Theatre Companion for reminding me.)

Rothstein’s script is built on a series of statements from soldiers with each quote closed out with their name and rank. I’m a big fan of epistolary writing, and using this tactic felt like we were reading a soldier’s letter to someone back home. Associating words to people gave the story its heart. The production also uses the power of music to support this (sometimes debated) moment in WWI history. Music Director Theresa Quinn’s magical piano playing is absent, but her church choral director skills are apparent. There’s a whole lot of ensemble singing going on, and it’s all done a cappella. At times it’s a little bit barbershop quartet harmonics, other times I hear full-fledged British boy choir-layered harmonies in the familiar WWI tunes, including “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” “Pack Up Your Troubles,” and “When This Bloody War is Over.”  It’s all so very good. Peppered between are stand out solos from the familiar voices of MusicalFare including Ricky Needham, Darryl Semira, Marc Sacco, and Louis Colaiacovo. It’s a tribute to the cast and Quinn’s direction to pull it off as successfully as they all did. There was no music to “help” the singer find his pitch: it’s all up to talent and skill that this cast has in abundance. If an occasional sound wasn’t quite as written, well, heck, blame trench acoustics.

Susan Drozd staged and directed this crew with military precision. There were beautiful moments when weapons were sharply, deliberately placed just so. Each actor held a firm gaze to the back of the house when delivering lines, speaking to everyone and someone else just beyond the backwall.  Chris Cavanagh’s dramatic lighting and battle noises were the perfect foils for designer Dyan Burlingame’s trench set. Kari Drozd managed costume design and it was fun to watch the men using simple leg wraps, hats, and coats to become other characters. This was an important detail in the story and signaled their transition from camp soldier to one in active battle. Actors represented multiple roles, too, and were adept at shifting accents and dialects as well.

All the elements come together to create a moving and powerful human experience.

The well-paced, one act (no intermission and just under 90 minutes) production ended with a reminder, from British poet Robert Laurence Binyon’s poem The Fallen: “We will remember them.”

All is Calm is onstage until December 12: tickets and details are at www.musicalfare.com.

Sidebar: MusicalFare, like every other space in our community,  has many protective policies in place. Vaccination cards and IDs are checked before you enter the theatre. Facemasks are required. There’s touchless ticketing, too. All good stuff that should encourage audience members to feel safe and welcomed. The one thing that irks me is the lack of the printed program. I totally get it: it’s another way to limit contact between patrons and volunteers, both of whom may be at risk. Digital programs may inadvertently cause a new epidemic: cell phones on during the production to follow the song list. Seriously. I was surrounded by multiple program perusers and even over heard one person comment about how convenient it was to ‘see’ the program now. Patrons, it’s OUR responsibility to manage our need to know during a show. Peruse before curtain, please, or when you get home. The Patti LuPone Rules still apply: phones off and away during a show, please. Theatres created digital programs to protect you, and not to give you a new way to distract actors and your fellow patrons. The pre-show video with actors demonstrating how (and how not) to wear a face mask, however, was a hoot.

Hand to God Returns to Road Less Traveled Theater

Sabrina Kahwaty and Dan Urtz

I saw Road Less Traveled Theater’s production of Hand to God for the first time on March 8, 2020. It was the last show I saw that season before The Long Intermission.   It was a complete production, full of heart, humor, hell, and hope. RLTP wisely re-opened its 18th season by bringing it back and – if that’s possible – it’s gotten even better.

Robert Askins  penned a modern-day horror story, set in a Texas church, with  grieving widow Margery (Jenn Stafford), her shy son Jason (Dan Urtz), their earnest pastor (John Kreuzer), bad boy Timmy (Henry Farleo), and sweet teen Jessica (Sabrina Kahwaty, replacing Maura Nolan Coseglia from the 2020 crew).  Pastor Greg advises Margery to work through her grief by organizing a teen-driven puppet theatre, aptly named The Christkateers. Timmy is there to avoid a less than happy home life. Jason’s engaged because, well, Mom is the leader, and Jessica admits to an interest in puppetry. As they build their puppets in preparation for their first performance at service, Jason’s puppet persona Tyrone becomes aggressively Satanic. Even an attempt at exorcism (“Do Lutherans even do exorcism,” asked a quizzical Jessica) can’t break Tyrone’s hold over Jason.  Yup, there’s plenty of power in a cast-off sock with fluffy yarn hair.

Kudos go to designer/puppeteer Adam Kreutinger for creating the sock-alter egos. Set designer Dyan Burlingame created a main space that brought back plenty of church basement memories (I loved the “time out” cornered tricked out with the hell on earth motif), with its inspirational posters, cheery colors, and kid-size accoutrements assembled by props master Diane Almeter Jones. Shelby Converse got to choreograph some pretty outlandish fight scenes, too.  Director John Hurley had an A-list team for sure.

Urtz earned a 2020 Artie Award (Outstanding Actor in a Play) for his portrayal of meek Jason and the devil Tyrone. The sheer physicality of the role was impressive enough, then layer on the expressive emotional shifts and his whole performance is amazing. Stafford is a repressed randy mama when she’s not the demure church goer: her range is extraordinary. Farleo’s Timmy is hard to like and just as he should be. Kreuzer brings a quiet strength to Pastor Greg (who lands one of the funniest lines of the show if you remember The Exorcist), and Kahwaty’s sweetness as Jessica (with some spiciness as puppet Jolene) help bring the needed turn-around to Jason. All told, it’s a fine ensemble.

My frequent theatre companion won’t see shows a second time: for him the experience is one and done. I disagree: sometimes the second go-round brings out things you missed or you just see differently. That’s the case with Hand to God; I saw Margery’s pain manifest itself more deeply, and Jason’s sense of loss and confusion over his dad’s death simmering under the surface. There are some fine laughs and absurdity, too, but the poignancy of this story prevailed even moreso the second time around.  Even if you were among couple 2020 audiences, Hand to God is well worth revisiting.

Hand to God runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission to December 5. All COVID policies are in place (your vax card and ID will be checked at entrance and masks are required): you will feel comfortable in a safe place…even when Satan speaks.  Visit www. roadlesstraveledproductions.org  for details and tickets.

Spirited Show at D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre

Legend has it that the D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre is haunted.  A fire in the original 1874 building took the life of one of  the Grey nuns who lived there and it’s thought that she’s still on campus. For the next month, she’s not alone. The Woman in Black, on stage now to November 21, is a haunting story in the grand British tradition. Based on a novel, the stage version has dominated London’s West End since 1989, making it the second longest running non-musical stage play in Brit history. (The Mousetrap still prevails).

The Woman in Black is a character-rich two hander where David Lundy (as the mature Arthur Kipps) and Peter Horn (as the actor and a younger Kipps) assume multiple characters to tell Kipps’ lived story. The Kipps family liked to share spooky stories on Christmas Eve, and after many years, older Kipps was ready to share his real life ghost story from when he was a younger man.  He hired the actor to help him tell his tale.  This is where the fun begins.  As the story goes, he was a young solicitor, charged with sorting the details of an eccentric dead woman’s estate. He finds the  skeleton in her closet. And in her hallway.  And in the nursery.  And on the marshes surrounding her remote home.  She’s not a friendly presence – a spinster dressed in classic widow’s weeds with a disfigured face – and mayhem follows wherever she goes. Family secrets have a way of doing that.

The whole show is creepy good fun.  Lundy is marvelous as the senior Kipps and multiple supporting roles as, adopting a variety of accents, and affectations. Horn as the actor assumes the role of the young Kipps living out the solicitor’s youthful reality while coaching the senior Kipps to breathe life into…death. Horn is fine transforming himself from haughty actor/storyteller coach to the younger, more affable Kipps. Lundy and Horn play off each other very well.

Director Kyle LoConti must have had a blast with two outstanding actors and their extraordinary adaptability. Designer David King built a spooky and sparse black set with a few furnishing to push about. Brian Cavanagh and Geoffrey Tocin – lighting and sound design respectively – had the heavier lift and created enough gloomy spookiness to let our imaginations take over. Creaky doors, distant screams, footsteps, and the usual things that go bump in the night are all there. Set, lights, and sound created that perfect balance of actual theatre and theatre of the mind.Exquisite.

Cynics will breathe a ho-hum and call it all pretty predictable. But when you give yourself up to the experience of being in a haunted Edwardian theatre and spending a couple hours in Victorian England on a dark and stormy night, it’s a pretty perfect experience.

The Woman in Black runs just under two hour with a 15-minute intermission. Touchless  ticketing, new cozy seats, vaccinations and masks required, make the evening totally comfortable, until the ghosts waft by. Visit www.kavinokytheatre.com for details and tickets, if you dare.

Patience is Indeed a Virtue for All for One Productions

For the cast and crew of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, the past 19 months must have been pure agony. The show was shut down opening night (thank you, Covid) after months of prep by All for One Theatre Productions, (the collaborative comprised of Shea’s 710 Theatre, MusicalFare Theatre, Irish Classical Theatre Company, Theatre of Youth, and Road Less Traveled Productions). Imagine the agony of sitting on this exquisite production. It was truly worth the wait.

Based on British author Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel, playwright Simon Stephen’s script  begins with a neighborhood tragedy: a teen discovers that his neighbor’s dog has been killed. The distraught owner is quick to blame the teen. Thus begins a two-hour journey of a painful truth, deliberate deception, and a young man’s search for order in a very disorganized world.

Samuel Fesmire gives a mesmerizing performance as Christopher, the accused neighbor. While not specifically called out, Christopher appears to live on the autism spectrum, high-functioning and brilliant with mathematics, and sometimes childlike in his need for routine and order. He walks in straight lines and turns at precise right angles, marks his steps as he walks (“Remember your rhythms,” says is teacher Siobhan played by Sara Kow-Falcone), and cubes prime numbers to reduce stress. Fesmire’s movements capture the tics and quirks of someone whose mind is always racing.  Kow-Falcone’s carefully measured passion and commitment to her student paint the perfect picture of an ideal teacher.

While searching for Wellington the dog’s killer, Christopher learns some hard truths about his dad (Anthony Alcocer),  his mom (Candice Kogut) and Wellington’s owners (Wendy Hall and Ben Michael Moran).   Moran and Hall also do double duty as part of the ensemble, too, playing minor characters and set pieces. That’s actually a pretty cool part of the production. People are often miming walls and doors on the Spartan grid set. Even in the opening scene, lighting outlines Wellington’s dead body along with the murder weapon. 

No surprise that a collaborative performance has a super-size production team. Director David Oliver and assistant director Lucas Lloyd built a good team with Lynne Koscielniak doubling up on scene and lighting design, Christopher Ash and Brian McMullen on the projection (there’s plenty of that, too, against the grid set), Gerry Trentham as movement director, and Jean Toohey as dialect coach to keep the British accents on point and in check.  It this was a band, it would be described as tight.

Overall, it’s a fine interpretation of the novel and a good depiction of what it’s like to live in a world that you often don’t understand when you’re otherwise abled. Fesmire as a Christopher will win your heart as you empathize with his daily challenges. I was less focused on the parental lying and infidelity: the acting quartet handled that well. It’s a tribute to the production company and its choice of show to see marquee actors like Pamela Rose Mangus and David Marciniak in ensemble roles here, too.

The show’s timing may feel uneven at times (the first act felt long and a trusted colleague felt act two dragged) but like Christopher, once you feel the rhythm of the story, it makes sense.

Thanks to All for One for bringing this powerful show to the 716 and not giving up on it when Covid  was threatening, This is good stuff.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is a solid two hours with intermission and is onstage at Shea’s 710 Theatre to November 14.  Details and tickets at www. sheas.org.