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 irishclassical.com. Run time is a little over two hours with a 15-minute intermission.

Guards at the Taj at Road Less Traveled Productions

I’ve always loved a good buddy story. Butch and Sundance, Thelma and Louise, Oscar and Felix…you get it. One is always solid, pragmatic while the other is more spontaneous, creative, free-falling through life because the other buddy is both the emotional safety net and soft place to land. Road Less Traveled Productions has the ultimate in buddy experiences onstage until December 11.

The two Guards at the Taj share that same rapport. Babur (Darryl Samira) and Humayun (Afrim Gjonbalaj) are on the lower rung of imperial guards gate-keeping the 22 year construction of the Taj Mahal.  They are to follow a strict protocol: they are to keep their backs to the construction site at all times with swords raised in their right hands; they are not to speak; and they are not to scale the wall to sneak a peek at the beauty that is being created behind them. No, they are not to see the work of 20,000 laboring men. But these young guards, who also shared military experience, are curious. Even through Humayun keeps reminding Babur to be quiet, stand tall, take this role seriously, they do fall into the easy banter of two guys on the job, until they realize that their work will include an unthinkable, unfathomable task. You see, the architect has asked the Shah to allow the workforce to view the completed Taj Mahal before it’s revealed to the rest of Agra and the world. This is an affront to the Shah, and there will be consequences. Babur can’t fathom that, nor can he zip his lip about his opinions, despite Humayun’s emphatic reminders. And this is where the buddy story takes a dark turn.

Playwright Rajiv Joseph’s award-winning script was inspired by myths, legends, and some history about how the Taj Mahal was constructed. The result is an intense and emotional experience that examines the boundaries of loyalty, honesty, and family responsibility.

Both Semira and Gjonbalaj are exceptional  here. It’s easy to get caught up in Semira’s boyish curiosity and enthusiasm as he dreams out loud about inventing a flying machine and seeing the world. Yet Humayun’s respect for rules has its virtue, too. This is riveting theatre that will linger in your mind as you reflect on its content and pull away the layers of their words, their actions, and the consequences they will face. It’s good to see Semira in this role after playing Arthur is MusicalFare Theatre’s easy-to-forget staging of Camelot. Gjonbalaj has a penchant for rich, complex roles as his character in RLTP’s Disgraced in  2018 and last season in D’Youville Kavinoky’s fierce People, Places, and Things.

Dyan Burlingame’s set is austere: the façade of a construction site is pretty blasé, but add John Rickus’ vibrant lighting design and Kate Menke’s sound that you can almost feel and the whole effect is unified and powerful. Director Kate Mallinson had a rich palette here.

I’ll be blunt: there were some scenes that were hard to watch. And they were meant to be that way. The 17th century was a brutal time and a grieving, entitled monarch could make his own rules.

Guards at the Taj runs just under 90 minutes with no intermission. Find info and a link to tickets at http://www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org.

Misery is a Creepy Good Story at D’Youville Kavinoky

One of the late singer Helen Reddy’s hits songs (circa 1974) began with the lyrics “Lonely women are the desperate kind.” That’s a good thought to keep when you see Misery on stage now at D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre.

Misery is based on the Stephen King novel which also became a film. The stage adaptation by William Goldman is just as eerie, creepy, and moody as one would expect of a story with King origin, and does a good job keeping you on the proverbial edge of your seat.

Our lonely, desperate, not-exactly a heroine is Annie Wilkes, an ex-nurse who lives alone in a secluded Colorado farm house. She’s the “number one fan” of novelist Paul Sheldon and his historical fiction series about Misery Chastain. Sheldon ironically stays at a nearby inn from time to time, and when Annie is not-so-ironically following him on a mountain road during a snowstorm and he skids off the road, she decides to nurse him back to health. In her home. Without calling for help. And that’s where it all gets weird. Wonderfully, psychologically, and thrillingly weird.

Loraine O’Donnell is Wilkes, Adriano Gatto is Sheldon together (with a couple visits from the Sheriff, played by Steven Brachmann), they take us on a journey of obsession and extreme fan-girl gone mad.

The emotional tone is established by David King’s set. It revolves to show three key spaces in Annie’s home; the bedroom where Paul is locked in; the hallway with a bookshelf tribute to Paul and his Misery books, and Annie’s kitchen. Each space is dreary with time-darkened wallpaper, old furnishings, and dowdy trappings with some religious displays, too. Props to prop designer Donny Woodward for creating a visual atmosphere of sadness from the start. (Shout out to the ‘50s vintage copper Jello molds hanging over the kitchen sink. Dear readers who have visited my home know that mine hang in the pantry.)

The Annie we meet is bubbly, excited to be caring for her captive idol, and devoted to his recovery. Or not. O’Donnell is the master of this transformation, from eager helpmate to captor….her eyes, her mannerisms, her demeanor shifts and morphs as our story unfolds.  Gatto as Paul does his share of shifting, too, as he regains physical strength and mental wherewithal. And as he heals, the fun begins. He wants to leave. Annie needs him to stay. And she’s determined. The mental calisthenics they play is so creepy good, bewitching almost. Director Brian Cavanagh coaxed power into the restraint here and it’s fine. The most visually arresting scene was as the set rotated counterclockwise as Paul propelled his wheelchair clockwise through the rooms looking for a way out. Gatto choreographed some chilling fight scenes, too, between Annie and Paul and some weapons, too.  

Misery is smart, sad, sharp, and scary. It’s a potent reminder that disappointment and life circumstances can change someone’s heart and soul, perhaps beyond repair, and even pop literature has power when the reader is very fully engaged. D’Youville Kavinoky is telling more than a story here.

Misery is on stage until November 20 and runs a little more than two hours with a 15-minute intermission. I particularly love the printed program and the “stand by” cast (Don Gervasi as Paul, Marie Costa as Annie, Kodi James as the Sheriff.) A good decision on the Kav’s part to have standbys at the ready. Too many productions were truncated or canceled the past couple years and this is a good plan. Book your reservation at http://www.kavinokytheatre.com.

Lots of Laughs at Alleyway Cabaret

Babuska can mean an older woman if you’re in Poland or Russia or a headscarf tied under your chin (if you’re the American descendant of that older woman) or it’s a 1980 Kate Bush song (spelled as Babooska). But if you’re in the Theatre District on the fourth weekend of the month between now and the end of the year, Babuska! is an improv duo with a pretty darn funny hour-long show.

Todd Benzin and Don Gervasi are the two comic actors of Babuska! They started the act several years ago as a Buffalo Infringement Festival performance. It’s now found a (perfect) home on stage Alleyway’s Cabaret space.

Full disclosure: I had never been to a live improv show before and was prepared to, as a friend commented, “likely be at the mercy of the dullest wit in the audience.”  Mercifully, that wasn’t the case.

They open the show nicely wearing dress pants and collared shirts with ties (always a nice touch) with a request: they want an audience member to shout out a line from a recent social media post. This is what will spark the show’s plot and dialogue.

Hmm. This could be wild or mild.

The night we saw the show, they were charged to riff around a statement about the virtues of the pre-planned potty. Hmm. Being it’s summertime and outdoor concerts abound and porta-potties are ubiquitous there, the opening scene they contrived was set outside a porta-potty at a concert. Benzin and Gervasi’s skills as actors and comedians didn’t go down the toilet. Their sharp wit is more about word play and conversation and yeah, a few well pantomimed sight gags, too.  The set up is that these two old friends got together:  Gervasi is the ‘live in the moment’ guy and Benzin is the pre-planned, pre-pared (riffing on the pre from the social post) guy with a loaded fanny pack and a rain suit on an 80% sunny day. The visible-in-the-mind’s-eye only porta potty may or may not be occupied and there’s indecision about the right was to, ahem, proceed. The scene drifts to the concert entrance when Gervasi becomes the ticket taker and buttoned-up, pre-planned Benzin left his ticket in the rain suit that he doffed outside. More clever word play. More spontaneous and snappy dialogue. More character exposition. This constant volleying is fun to watch and I have to imagine that it’s fun to play, too. The scene shifts backstage with Benzin as the roadie and Gervasi as the British rocker with performance anxiety and lots of demands, including warm vodka and a hot hooker. And just like that, Benzin is the hooker…relying on a softening of his voice and a slack in one wrist as it rests on his hip to convey this slightly sultry role. I gotta say it: I roared.

The hour flies by, with plenty of laughs and some more poignant moments, too, that leave you with the lingering feeling that elements of comedy, indeed, are serious things. Gervasi and Benzin play off each other well. Remember the iconic “Carol Burnett Show,“ back when sketch comedy was king? Watching Gervasi and Benzin reminded me of the show’s Harvey Korman and Tim Conway: while their sketches started out scripted, they often became more off the cuff, and two actors were renowned for tempting each other to break character and laugh. I caught a few moments like that between Gervasi and Benzin and it was fun to watch.

Babuska!  runs one full hour, no intermission, and is onstage at Alleyway Cabaret the last Friday and Saturday every month, the website says, until 2075. Tickets and info here: https://www.alleyway.com/show/babushka

Keep an Eye on Your Family with “A Gentleman’s Guide…”

Who knew that plotting to bump off your family members could be so much fun?

That’s the essence of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, killing it on stage at Musicalfare Theatre until August 7.

This outrageously funny musical takes us to Edwardian England as Monty D’Ysquith Navarro (deliciously played by Ricky Needham) is sitting in a jail cell writing his memoir. What brought him there? Flashback to a time when he’s reflecting on his mother’s passing when he learns that he is technically the Ninth Earl of Highurst and is part of a family of high ranking. His late mother was disowned by the family when she married a Castilian (gasp!) musician (encore gasp!) for love (gasp times three!) They lived a poor but humble life, with Mum telling Monty this his father’s name was the only one that mattered.

Well now.

Monty endeavors to meet this family and when his first overtures are shunned, he takes action. Many actions. No more spoiler alerts. Just get yourself to the theatre to see what happens next…and how.

Everything about this production, exquisitely directed by Doug Weyand, is point perfect. First of all, the casting. Needham’s previous appearance on MusicalFare’s stage was in the elegant and poignant All is Calm earlier this season. As Monty, he has the timing, the expressions, the cunning, the charm, the everything else Monty needs and more. He learns about his lineage from the gifted Jenn Stafford who as Miss Marietta Shingle sprays biscuits bits like nobody else. His original love interest is Sibella, (Solange Gosselin), more motivated by money than love, until he meets Phoebe (Emily Yancey) who selects him as her betrothed in the decidedly funny “I’ve Decided to Marry You.” Gotta love a woman – or women –  with a plan.

The ensemble collectively fills a myriad of roles and makes artwork come to life (literally…portraits of presumed deceased family members start to sing) on stage. Jon May, Michelle Holden, and John Panepinto fill in the gaps with so many roles that move the story along.

And then there’s Marc Sacco. Oh. My. Goodness. He plays the about-to-be deceased members of the D’Ysquith family. Every single one of them. Male and female. Lots of great costuming by Kari Drozd and some incredibly quick hair and makeup transformations designed by Susan Drozd support Sacco’s unmistakable talent for shifting from cleric to early feminist to cranky old guy. He’s the consummate character actor.

A good night in the theatre is more than the story and the cast. Technical creativity knits it all together. Chris Cavanagh created a set and sound/visual experience that skillfully plays modern stage technology off good old fashioned site gags. Watch as the cleric tumbles to his death with a colorful splat. Theresa Quinn leads a small but mighty back up band: Jim Runfola, Jimmy Runfola, and Peggy Scalzo do the music justice from behind the scrim.

A Gentleman’s Guide….is a hoot and the 2 ½ hours fly by with lots of laughs, quirky characters, and a fine showcase for the best talent our community has to offer. There’s a 15-minute intermission where the smile won’t leave your face. Get your tickets at http://www.musicalfare.com.

Come to the Cabaret – a Second Generation Triumph

What I love best about Second Generation Theatre is the company’s commitment to make bold artistic choices. Company partners Kristin Bentley, Kelly Copps, and Arin Lee Dandes make thoughtful and interesting choices that successfully blend familiar and newer works to make a dynamic season.

This season’s finale production, Cabaret, was a prescient (more than three year ago) choice, against our country’s – and more recently – our community’s realities. A brief deep background if you haven’t seen it on stage, screen, or the source document book: Germany in the late 1920s was seeing its golden days tarnish as Nazism was on the rise. Clifford Bradshaw, an aspiring novelist from America, travels the Berlin for inspiration and is caught up in the country’s changing socio-political times.

SGT’s production is earthy and intense, well-cast, perfectly executed, and meticulously presented. From its simple set expertly designed by Primo Thomas and appointed by Diane Almeter Jones, to the stark lighting schema by Chris Cavanagh, the technical elements visually and aurally pull you into this world immediately. And then comes Allan Paglia’s orchestra, and the Emcee, Joe Russi in a true tour de force performance. Sly and sassy, furtive and cunning, he’s the human barometer we see change with Germany’s political climate.  Russi’s performance is downright brilliant start to finish, from his sweet-sexy smiles to his chilling interpretation of “I Don’t Care Much.”

Next up are the ‘ladies’ of the Kit Kat Club, the seedy social center of the story. This rough and tumble kick line is the backdrop for the most (IMHO) detestable character in the Broadway canon, Sally Bowles, the British chanteuse who steals Clifford’s ambiguous heart. Cassie Cameron has this role. She half speaks, half growls her songs from the delectable Kander and Ebb score which punctuate her character’s “I’m all about me” personality.

Adding to the cold heart club is Frau Kost, wickedly played by Amy Jakiel. The across the hall neighbor of Clifford and Sally in Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house, she’s a busy prostitute who embraces New Germany politics: her off-hand remark to Herr Schultz at an engagement party is a revealing moment in the story. Her fierce “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” is rage on stage set to music.

So much anger…but there’s heart-warming moments of love in this sad story, too.  Pamela Rose Mangus is a delight as Fraulein Schneider, boarding house owner who has the heart of Herr Schultz, the local fruit shop owner, played by Steve Jakiel. For me, theirs was the real heart of this production. They were a couple caught in two worlds; their love of home and heritage, Fraulein’s fear for the future, Herr ‘s naivete that this Nazi thing is a political whim. Jakiel and Mangus share a lovely, charming on-stage connection. Their tender duet “It Couldn’t Please Me More” was sweet and loving. Mangus has two other pivotal moments: her act one song “So What” countered against her wistful second act song “What Would You Do” is Kander and Ebb magic. Her passion, her confusion, her love for a fine man whose country is about to betray him…all spot on.

The other stand out is Dan Urtz as Clifford. He blew us all away last season in Road Less Traveled Productions’ Hand to God as the Satan-possessed teen puppeteer…and now he’s the American who is witness to a changing world. Another dynamic performance at the other end of the spectrum, including a showplace for his wonderfully rich voice.

Director Kristin Bentley got it all right with this production, as did choreographer Kelly Copps. They create a whole little world on that small Shea’s Smith Theatre stage. It works. The stage movements they created are stunning and beautifully detailed. Despite all the goodness, it’s not an easy show to watch. You know what’s coming for these characters. You know it’s not good. You know it’s inevitable.

Spoiler Alert: it’s the final moment that grabs you and lingers As an audience member, it’s disconcerting. You want to applaud wildly. Call the cast back for more appreciation. But you can’t. And they won’t come out again. The impact is strong, palpable. And it’s completely by design.

Cabaret is a full two hours with a 15-minute intermission. It runs until June 26. Find details at http://www.secondgenerationtheatre.com.

Facts Are FACTS at Kavinoky

The Life-Style of a Fact, on stage now at the Kacinoky Theater, is a play based on a series of events that happened one night in Las Vegas. There were lap-dancers, game-playing chickens, and people who are living with depression mentioned in this dramatic story that was based in truth. With facts. And nothing made up at all. Because words matter…and so does the story behind them.

So…what do you think? Pretty intriguing, huh? Except, that paragraph is replete with errors. Starting with the title of the play (actually, The Lifespan of a Fact, and the name of the theatre (D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre), and very brief description of this thought-provoking script, that is based on a book that was written because of an essay that was rejected by one magazine and published after a lengthy review process by another. And it’s billed as a comedy. The real truth of that paragraph was the last sentence: Because words matter…and so does the story behind them.

In brief, real life essayist John D’Agata authored an essay about life in Las Vegas; the center of the piece was a teen who took his life. The other things – the mention of lap-dancers, the chicken playing checkers, and a million little details about appearance and perception – were woven into this work, too. D’Agata was going for a specific rhythm and cadence in his writing, using a numeric count down to emphasize key points while overemphasizing some details and underplaying others, all for the sake of flow and nuance. Was he intentionally bending facts and manipulating what is real? Or was he just cleverly re-arranging ‘truth’ to make reality more readable?

Playwrights Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell adapted this work from the book co-authored by real-life D’Agata and Jim Fingal about the seven year ordeal of actually bringing the essay to publication. Ironically, it was following some well-publicized articles on fictionalized news and a bit before the advent of what we now call “fake news.”

Director Kyle LoConti and her team did a fine job peeling back the pages of a magazine and revealing the review and publication process. She cast Peter Palmisano as the writer/essayist D’Agata; he’s properly passionate and a wee bit surly about the craft of writing itself. Brian Brown is Fingal, the fledgling fact-checker, an intern looking to prove his worth under a tight deadline. Their exchanges make the show. From Brown’s subtle bits of physical comedy as he struggles to don and doff a backpack that’s heavier than his slight frame, to their verbal dueling, these bits are best. We see Fingal’s determination to be absolute in the pursuit of facts and D’Agata’s desire to weave a compelling story, subtly weighted against a generational conflict. If Brown is tentative and stiff in the first act, he’s fiery in the second act during this war of words. These two are the perfect foils; you sense that a deeper understanding will ultimately develop here, too.

Loraine O’Donnell is the fictional editor, Emily Penrose.  She’s the one who selected Fingal as the fact-checker for this piece and she’s the one who literally breaks up their fight and gets them on the path to publication. O’Donnell plays her with a furrowed brow and no-nonsense air.

In the end, is literary non-fiction held to the same standard as journalism when it comes to the fine points of accuracy? That’s the point this trio appears to ponder in the enigmatic closing moment, which reminds me of the final scene of Aaron Sorkin’s The Farnsworth Invention from Kavinoky’s 2009 season.

The Lifespan of a Fact runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission until June 26. Mask wearing is still required to keep us all safe and healthy. Visit http://www.kavinokytheatre.com for tickets and details.

Head for The Oregon Trail at Alleyway

Full disclosure: I never played The Oregon Trail videogame. Not being much of a gamer (except for my Pac Man and Ms Pac Man obsession in the ‘80s), I actually never heard of the game. If you had asked me what was The Oregon Trail, I might have guessed something that fur traders used to get from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean. So color me surprised that it turned out to be a pretty thoughtful, pretty funny show now onstage at the Alleyway Theatre.

Renee Landrigan is Jane, a typical ‘90s middle schooler who dramatically flops herself on the floor in embarrassment, dials up her mom on a flip phone with an antenna, and can’t quite keep up with big sister Mary Ann (Sue McCormack). Jane has a secret crush on class hunk Billy (Ben Caldwell) and another secret: a disc that sends her imagination back a century to The Oregon Trail where she can pretend she’s packing the covered wagon for a ride across the prairie, circa 1848. It’s all pretty harmless fun….until the day the computer talks back to her.

The stage action cleverly shifts between today Jane and 1848 Jane (maybe her great great grandmother, perhaps) with Elise Vullo in the vintage Jane role. Jane from the days of yore is struggling with her mother’s death and her father’s decision to go west. She adores her accomplished older sister Mary Ann (McCormack in a bonnet) who has stepped up into the caregiver’s role. But then Jane struggles with the rough, slow road and the threat of death by dysentery and other things. We time-hop forward and today Jane is an adult, of sorts. She is struggling to find her place in the world while big sister Mary Ann has a tiring but rewarding medical career. Jane manifests classic signs of depression, not caring for herself, devoted to screens (both computer and TV), unable to hold a job or find a career pathway. Tough love doesn’t seem to work. Even a chance meeting with ex-crush Billy isn’t shaking her out of her reverie. Mary Ann decides a wilderness day, some sage to burn, and some journaling might help Jane find her path.

Landrigan is a delight as Today Jane, both  young and grown up. She’s a great twitchy ‘tween and a lost soul 20-something. McCormack’s Mary Ann is equally solid: as today’s Mary Ann she’s both weary and wise and just wants her kid sister to find her way. Caldwell’s Billy is the middle school jerk who hasn’t grown up (we all know him). It’s John Profeta as Clancy, the 1848 dad and Nicholas Lama as the voice of the game who provide the wisdom of the Trail….actual and electronic. Profeta is determined that he’s made a good decision to ford the streams and hike the hills to a new life for his family. Lama’s resonant voice reminds us that outside forces can oddly, wickedly control you when you least expect it. It’s a clever device by playwright Bekah Brunstetter. Director Chris J Handley and Tim McGrath, scenic designer made good use of the stage that took use from classroom to wilderness to the gals’ apartment. Todd Warfield had some work cut out for him sourcing a full size-looking wagon and some ancient greige computers (memories of my vintage 286!) I loved some of Nicholas Quinn’s music choices for audio transitions, too.

All told, the earlier scenes and the waaay earlier flashback scenes were more satisfying than the ending. I would have liked to have seen a glimpse of Today Jane and Yesteryear Jane one more time, and maybe heard more creepy shout outs from the game himself to knit it all together.

The Oregon Trail is onstage to May 28. It runs a solid two hours+ with an intermission to enjoy Alleyway’s lovely lobby.  Get tickets and info at www.alleyway.com. Bring a mask. You’ll be OK.

It’s Tradition vs Modern at Jewish Repertory Theatre

We all know that person. He’s chronically late and eternally apologetic. He’s completely annoying and utterly charming. He swears he’s your best friend but given the opportunity, he’d shatter your trust.

That pretty much sums up Hershel Klein (“My friends call me Hersh,” he says), the diamond dealer who can’t shut up in Modern Orthodox, the current production of Jewish Repertory Theatre.

Hersh is traditional and proud of it, peppering his patter with plenty of Yiddish interjections, notably Baruch Hashem (blessed be the name of the Lord). He’s 45 minutes late to sell a diamond to Ben (RJ Voltz) who is finally ready to pop the question to his live-in doctor girlfriend Hannah (Kayla Storto). Hersh is curious about Ben and Hannah, who are Jewish and modern and breaking all the rules that Hersh holds so dear. Ben is less curious about Hersh’s life, even to the point of mocking his faith. So it’s a rather weird circumstance that lead Hersh to Ben and Hannah’s door where he passes out, then moves in, and an odd kinship develops. And it becomes clear that Hersh is settling in for the long haul. Hersh is content to be there…but only after the kitchen and items can be kosher, and some of Hersh’s treasures are on the walls, and there’s a mezuzah on the entrance doorframe. To get him out of their hair and lair, Ben and Hannah use an internet dating site (oy gevalt!) to find Hersh to Rachel (Robyn Baun), his b’shert…his perfect mate.

Adam Yellen is using his very best deadpan chops as Hersh: he has Hersh’s shtick down pat, from his earnestness to his overall twitchiness. Voltz and Storto are perfectly suited as the affianced Ben and Hannah. It’s the Hersh and Rachel combination that is so endearing. Baun is laugh out loud hysterical as they kibbitz away their first date. She’s that proverbial ray of sunshine with a brash and loud chutzpah; still she’s the zaftig girl of his dreams. You almost hope for a second act so you can see their marriage emerge.

Director Steve Vaughan had a good eye for this cast; they roles fit them like gloves.  Playwright Daniel Goldfarb has a real gift for banter and fast-paced conversation: if there are some holes in the plot, they are quickly forgotten.

Give yourself a few minutes before the show starts to scan the program’s pullout of Yiddish-Hebrew words: there’s a lot of them and it will come in handy (all these years, I thought Shlemiel and Shlemazzel were just the first few years of the Laverne and Shirley theme song…who knew!)

Modern Orthodox is onstage to May 29. The show runs 90-ish minutes with no intermission: tickets and details are at www.jccbuffalo.org. We’ve had a frightening and heart-breaking week…give yourself a night out to laugh and lose yourself in the blush of young love.

It’s All About the Music at Shea’s

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations is a hoot of a way to end this year’s Broadway season at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. It’s full of feel-good energy and lots of familiar tunes that has you wanting more….and that’s a good metaphor for a Buffalo theatre season, especially coming of the COVID-intermission.

The show is part memoir, part juke box tribute to the 60-year reign of The Temptations. Not unlike Jersey Boys or Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, the script is a loose outline of how Otis Williams (Marcus Paul James) created brotherhood through music with some fellow Detroiters, got introduced to Motown legend Berry Gordy (Michael Andreaus) who assigned fledgling songwriter Smokey Robinson (Lawrence Dandridge) to create a signature sound, and the rest – as they say – is history. Along the way, there were plenty of woman woes, drug abuse, competition for the spotlight and plenty of music. The most fascinating part of the Temp’s history though is the time: they were moving up through the 1960s, working though the Civil Rights Movement, mourning the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., coping with violence as they toured southern states, while making music history in their own way. There were hints that the group wanted more relevance and to take a stand for social justice, but Gordy hired Shelly Berger (Reed Campbell) to help manage them and introduce a cross-cultural sound for their unique talents. Was there disappointment here? Maybe. Probably. This is the part of their story that deserved more telling, methinks. But scripts like this are written to hit the high notes (at best in falsetto) and a little revisionist history means we just get to the tunes a little faster.

And that’s the whole point of the story…. to celebrate the music. And damn it was good. Diana Ross and the Supremes make a guest appearance along with Tammi Terrell. Deri’Andra Tucker as Diana, Shayla Brielle G. doing double duty as Tammi and Flo, and Traci Elaine Lee as Mary had voices worthy of the music for sure.

It’s the five original Temps that had the show, though (there were 24 Temps to date, Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams said). He plus James T. Lane, Harrell Holmes, Jr., Jalen Harris, Elijah Ahmad Lewis as Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, and David Ruffin had the voices, the dancing, the swagger, and brotherhood that showed the best of the Temps the way we want to see them. If the script washed over the less appealing stuff…well…that’s not what the show was meant to be. It’s all about “Cloud Nine,” “My Girl,” “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” and the soundtrack of our lives from ’61 to ’73 and the group’s last Top 10 hit.

As you would expect, the lights, the costumes, the projection, and the set changes were flashy and dazzling. There was an appropriate Buffalo cheer when “Buffalo” and “Kleinhans” on flashed the projected marquee. And of course, when an early group member broke into “Shout,” this prompted an audience sing along. (Now wait a minute, kids, “Shout” was really a song before it became our favorite cheer.) Maybe it is in the script that the singer on stage ‘cues’ the audience to join in, but that clearly isn’t needed in this town.

If I had one disappointment, it is that there wasn’t a “mega mix” medley at the end so the audience – already on its feet – could dance and sing along one more time.

“Ain’t Too Proud” is in town (God willing and the COVID rate don’t rise) to Sunday, May 15. It runs a full two hours including a 20-minute intermission.  Tickets and details at www.sheas.org.