Theatre Review: ‘Visiting Mr. Green’ at Jewish Repertory Theatre

Saul Elkin and Nick Stevens in “Visiting Mr. Green” at Jewish Repertory Theatre.

“It’s not an easy thing to be a Jew,” Mr. Green kvetches to his court appointed companion in “Visiting Mr. Green,” the first production in Jewish Repertory Theatre’s 15th season.

How we navigate through these human minefields is what makes us unique, and what makes productions like “Visiting Mr. Green” the type of theatre that is always evocative.

He’s right. Mr. Green lost his wife, was almost hit by a car, and now has to have weekly visits with the driver of the car that almost “killed him,” he grumbles. Not really, says Ross the reluctant guest who admits to driving too fast when Mr. Green wandered into traffic. Accident, death wish or allegory?: whatever the reason, that mishap is the basis for this gentle story about accepting life’s realities while grappling with tradition, family, and self-acceptance in a changing world.

Of course Mr. Green is angry and depressed: his beloved wife of 59 years has died “and she was the healthy one,” he says. His disheveled New York City walk up over the dry cleaning shop he used to own has a noisy faucet, four sets of dishes in his Kosher kitchen, cupboards as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s, and non-working rotary phone. Even his only photo of his beloved Yetta is still covered and tucked away weeks after shiva has ended.  And then in bursts Ross, with his fancy corporate suit and attaché case: he’s reluctant to be there every Thursday at 7pm, but he respects his obligation to the court – until he finds that he is, despite Mr. Green’s assertions – needed there. Needed to stock the pantry, bring soup from the Kosher deli, tidy up, and draw Mr. Green back to life. Mr. Green has his purpose in Ross’ life, too. They banter, they argue, they sandpaper each other’s souls with strong words and opinions until they get there: that exquisite place when mistrust is finally scraped away and grains of acceptance shine.

It’s curious that playwright Jeff Baron’s script debuted within the year before Mitch Albom’s saccharine “Tuesdays with Morrie” was published. Even 21 years later, there’s depth and heart in this script that’s beautifully portrayed in this production. Saul Elkin as Mr. Green (he was Mr. Green when JRT staged this show originally) is irascible, opinionated, high-minded perfection. His slightest gesture speaks volumes: the tilt of an eyebrow, the soft, one-shoulder shrug punctuate sentences without being cliché. Nick Stevens as Ross reveals his character’s complexities in lingering layers. His act two monologue about his relationship with his father is strong,  heartfelt and thoughtful: these are the moments that stay with you. The world is different now than it was 21 years ago when this was written, but there are still those who struggle as Ross does, finding his way through life as someone who can’t bear to displease his parents while wanting to live an authentic life. Director Steve Vaughan handles this simply and elegantly.

The universal truth of “Visiting Mr. Green” is the unpredictability of the human condition. Family doesn’t mean intimate knowledge of each other. Common experience doesn’t mean parallel values. Fear shouldn’t mean hate. As we live our lives and hold onto traditions while watching the world change around us, it’s frightening. How we navigate through these human minefields is what makes us unique, and what makes productions like “Visiting Mr. Green” the type of theatre that is always evocative.

Running time is 2 hours including the 10-minute intermission.

“Visiting Mr. Green” is onstage at Jewish Repertory Theatre until November 12, 2017. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Sons & Lovers’ by Buffalo United Artists at Main Street Cabaret

The cast of “Sons & Lovers” by Buffalo United Artists. Photo by Cheryl Gorski.

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. 

 

Theatre Review: ‘John’ at Road Less Traveled Theatre

Darleen Pickering Hummert, Priscilla Young Anker andSara Kow-Falcone in ‘John’ at Road Less Traveled Theatre.

It’s funny how history can play tricks on you. Isn’t the past supposed to be static?  But if history is driven by the people who made the moments, do their spirits live on to remind you, change you, haunt you?

This cohesive meshing of story, set, and character make “John” a stand out.   

This mystical mixture of the past and its influence on the present is center stage in “John,”  the season opener for Road Less Traveled Productions. In nearly three-hours and two intermissions, we’re focused on the world inside a charming bed and breakfast near Gettysburg, PA where travelers Elias (Adam Yellen) and Jenny (Sara Kow-Falcone) struggle with their relationship and heady issues of the day: her phone keeps pinging with texts; he chews his Fruit Loops too loudly; and they are in love but there are lies and truths giving them pause.

Mertis Katherine (“it’s my given name, but you can call me Kitty,” she says) is the lady of the house, winningly portrayed by the Darleen Pickering Hummert.  Kitty loves her home’s history and mystery. It was once a war hospital, you see, and amputations were quite common. Limbs were often stacked higher than the windows. Maybe that accounts for some of the strange happenings there. The orchestrion (think player piano with a mini tambourine and bells inside) that starts and stops on its own. The Christmas tree lights that blink on and off. The whooshing sounds of birds in flight. And the one small room that’s supposed to be off limits to guests. This place is her haven, where she memorizes bird facts, writes in her journal, and reads to her blind friend Genevieve (Priscilla Young Anker).

Playwright Annie Baker’s story peels off in layers that draw you in. While Elias spends hours touring Civil War sites, quirky Kitty and crusty Genevieve muse to Jenny about their pasts.  She tunes into their messages, like a student of life listening to two crones. But something strikes a chord. Genevieve’s ex-husband is named John (“But I called him Jack,” she says) and Jenny admits there’s a man in her past named John, too. “Everyone knows someone named John,” Genevieve sniffs dismissively.

It’s labeled as a comedy and while there are plenty of funny moments, Baker’s poignant dialogue (softened by well-timed pauses) is wistful and rich with thought. It’s a script that doesn’t answer all the questions it asks, but that’s what makes it so grand: you’re left to sort it out and linger in that deliciously provocative way that’s the essence of exceptional theatre.  This is the real deal.

Director David Oliver paces this show perfectly: you don’t feel the three hours at all. I couldn’t imagine a more suitable cast: Hummert as Kitty is both nurturing and strong; Anker’s Genevieve is salty and irascibly funny; Yellen plays Elias deftly with the perfect amount of chip on his shoulder ; and Kow-Falcone as Jenny is solid and a fine match for her character.

The true star is Dyan Burlinghame’s set and the well-designed lightening and sound designs by John Rickus and Katie Menke respectively. There are moments when the action is taking place offstage so your eye can linger on the set’s fine details. This cohesive meshing of story, set, and character make “John” a stand out.   

Running Time: 3 Hours with two 10 minute intermissions.

“John” runs until October 1, 2017 and is presented at Road Less Traveled Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Roommates’ at American Repertory Theatre of Western New York

There are plenty of “buddy” shows on stage, but local playwright Mark Humphrey’s “The Roommates” isn’t your typical “three guys in a man cave” show.

Humphrey’s script has some clever language and his plot takes some interesting twists.

This is a world and regional premiere and it’s suited to this small stage. Even the music bleeding in through the walls from tavern next store lent some authenticity to the ramshackle off-the-beaten path apartment where broke gambler Paul (Michael Starczynski) is hiding out from loan-shark Elliot (Brett Klaczyk). The story is a simple one: Paul is behind in paying off his gambling debt. Elliot shows up one night to collect and brings along his sideman Booke,  menacingly portrayed by Victor Morales. Elliot leaves. Paul and Booke start to bond over books, TV shows, college memories, and the psychological intrigue behind the popular team building exercise,the trust fall. And then it gets real. And real weird.

Starczynski is fine as fumbling, quivering Paul, investment manager gone sleazy and ace poker player “until the cards went cold.” Gambling was his hobby until it turned into his obsession (a disease, he says) and he uses his status as a financial planner as his personal piggy-bank until he’s found out.  The second act shows the depth of his skill, as his character dynamic completely changes.

Klaczyk has the smooth moves of the underworld down pat. Finely dressed with a silk handkerchief keeping his finger prints off the doorknob and cell phone, he uses his voice as his first weapon and modulates his volume to invoke surprise. A classic and very worthy maneuver.

Morales – as always –  steals every scene (although on opening night, he seemed to struggle over a few dropped lines) with his tall and commanding frame, piercing eyes, and “fearless and fearsome” (as he says of his character) demeanor. This trio is tight and they move through Humphrey’s story with a bit of wariness. Maybe they miss the tension, too.

Humphrey’s script has some clever language (“one word: embezzler, close to the word imbecile” comes to mind), and his plot takes some interesting twists. I love a good psychological thriller (I can see “Sleuth” and “The Mousetrap,” twenty more times and still get breathless), and while “The Roommates” has some of those elements, that edginess just isn’t there. True, there are startling moments and director Drew McCabe takes full advantage of them, but you aren’t always on the edge of your proverbial seat.  The set, too, has the requisite shabbiness of a hideout, but the eggplant and hot pink paint job is just odd, especially with a vintage china cabinet and random tchotchkees piled in and on it on one wall. One thing to note in the printed program: the place is described as Elliot’s apartment: it’s really Paul’s. Elliott is that strange knock at the door that leads us to the start of our story.

Running Time: 90 Minutes with a 15 minute intermission.

“The Roommates” – the regional and world premiere – is onstage September 7-23, 2017 at American Repertory Theatre of Western New York. For more information, click here. 

Theatre Review: ‘The Light In The Piazza’ by Second Generation Theatre Company at Lancaster Opera House

Che bella.

Absolutely everything about this production of ‘The Light in the Piazza’ – a Western New York premiere – (it played at the Shaw Festival a few years ago) is simply beautiful. The starkly elegant set, the period perfect costumes, the casting, direction, and the music create a romantic and poignant night in Italy.

. . .simply beautiful

Director Loraine O’Donnell’s decision to pull the production off the elevated Opera House stage and put it on a thrust stage was inspired. This created a great audience vibe: we were part of Clara and Fabrizio’s love story. And what a love story!   It plays like a contemporary Italian opera with flashes of Fellini cinema Italiano, too, as you’re drawn into this story of starry eyed love and parental protection. Mother and daughter Americans Margaret Johnson (Debbie Pappas Sham) and Clara Johnson (Kelly Copps) are vacationing in Florence in 1953, re-visiting the tourist spots from Margaret’s honeymoon. “It’s a city of statues and stories,” says Margaret as daughter Clara is sketching things that catch her eye. Clara is a “special child,” Margaret explains. To our eyes, Clara is a beautiful adult, but her charming childlike qualities soon appear.  In a moment of theatre magic, Clara’s wide-brim hat flies away, to be caught by Fabrizio (Anthony Lazzaro).  Their eyes meet, halting sweet words are exchanged, and Clara is determined to see him again.

Ah, love. Ah, parental agita over family secrets and cultural differences. The story unfolds as Clara and Margaret meet Fabrizio’s family. Marc Sacco is a hoot as the philandering brother Giuseppe. He has the facial expressions and moves down pat.  Rebecca Runge as his wife Franca tries to warn Clara about life with a passionate Italian man in “The Joy You Feel.” Runge’s rich voice soars. Katy Miner is the matriarch with the spotlight in Act Two’s “Aiutami” (translation: help me). Matt Witten is the solid papa, proud, strong, protective in his own way.

It’s Margaret, Clara, and Fabrizio who win and warm the audience’s collective hearts. Pappas Sham is the stoic Southern mom: her tenderness as she sings “The Beauty Is” is breathtaking. Copps as Clara is that curious combination of innocent and passionate as she discovers love and struggles to claim her maturity. Lazzaro plays Fabrizio with a gentle wisdom and a powerful voice for love.

Allan Paglia led a string-dominated chamber ensemble that was lush and lovely, and stood up well to the powerful vocal talent in the cast.

The show’s music and lyrics were written by Adam Guettel and he lived up to grandfather Richard Rodgers’ roots by including an overture and entr’acte which are rare in contemporary musical theatre. But the whole show is that exquisite and rare moment, where musical styles collide and meld, language barriers are crossed, and true love triumphs.

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

“The Light in the Piazza” runs until June 18, 2017, is produced by Second Generation Theatre Company and is presented at The Lancaster Opera House in Lancaster. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Kalamazoo’ at New Phoenix Theatre

Marc-Jon Filippone as Irv and Betsy Bittar as Peg in ‘Kalamazoo’ onstage at The New Phoenix Theatre.

“Love is lovelier the second time around,” according to lyricist Sammy Cahn. I was humming this timeless Jimmy Van Heusen tune in my head and thinking about Cahn’s words while watching The New Phoenix Theatre’s final production, – “Kalamazoo” – to close its 21st season.

” ‘Kalamazoo’ will win your heart with its uplifting message and poignant reminder that we’re never too old to fall in love, start over, and be engaged in the life you didn’t expect.”

Finding love in our golden years is the basis of this sweet and funny two-hander starring Betsy Bittar as Peg and Marc-Jon Filippone, two unlikely matches who meet through a video dating service. Peg admits straight up that she loves birds, and twitters on (in the old fashioned way) about her delight in birdwatching.  She dreams of visiting a bird sanctuary in Kalamazoo (“doesn’t it sound like a magical place?” she wonders).  She’s widowed, mother of five girls, and a practicing Catholic, down to volunteering at Bingo night. Irving lost his beloved wife Rosie to cancer and – at the urging of his son David and his husband Robert – is looking to get out there again.  He says he’d like to meet a shiksa. Peg doesn’t want to meet a Jew.  Her sentences are sprinkled with malaprops. He’s pretty direct. Somehow the service connects them, and there they are, in a Mexican restaurant sipping from a giant margarita glass. They banter, they share, they almost flirt before they bicker a bit. Irv is blunt: sex perhaps?, as good girl Peg is adament with all the passion her Baltimore Catechism upbringing taught her. Yet the next scene finds them waking up together in a Holiday Inn. In the same bed. With vague memories of dancing, sharing the worm from the tequila bottle (“it’s like Lady and the Tramp with tequila,” swooned Peg) and other more permanent reminders of a wild-for-the-middle-aged-night. Oy. But something isn’t right. Maybe they aren’t ready to move forward after all?

Or are they? Their next date is a day at the beach with amateur metal detectors, cruising for lost coins and bits o’metal.  A found ring leads to a hurried proposal of sorts, and wedding plans that just seem too….planned.  Just when you think the story is about to go all cliché, there’s the break out scene, where Peg and Irv show their fears at starting over, and perhaps losing that special connection to their beloved first spouses. It takes courage to be that vulnerable again, and Filippone and Bittar have a good time letting us know that it’s OK to hate the process of aging and still love life’s journey, too.

Director Sheila McCarthy lets the strength of her actors and the simplicity of the script shine. The minimalist set is the perfect backdrop for Sam Crystal’s array of props and Kelli Bocock-Natale’s versatile costume choices. I mean, who wouldn’t wear a sombrero on a first date to a Mexican restaurant? That tiny detail is a great glimpse into Peg’s character:  a little out there and earnest to the core, just as Irv’s sweater vest is practical and classic.

‘Kalamazoo’ will win your heart with its uplifting message and poignant reminder that we’re never too old to fall in love, start over, and be engaged in the life you didn’t expect. Or as Irv said, “life is abundant, and you’re never too old to be young again.”

Running Time: 90 Minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

“Kalamazoo” runs until May 27, 2017 and is presented at New Phoenix Theatre in Buffalo. For more information, click here.

 

Theatre Review: ‘The Other Mozart’ at Shea’s 710 Theatre

“The Other Mozart” at Shea’s 710 Theatre.

“Nobody saved my letters,” laments Nannerl Mozart, the older sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, or as she calls him, Woflie or “that little sh*t,” in Sylvia Milo’s one-woman show ‘The Other Mozart.’

“. . .an interesting experience.”

This wistful statement delivered about halfway through the 80-minute performance could explain why Nannerl’s story is less told in music history. Eclipsed by her more famous baby brother, Nannerl also loved music, as she said, from the time she was born, and would clang her China tea cups in rhythm, and displayed prodigious talent at the keyboard. She badgered her father to teach her the harpsichord, which he delayed until her fingers grew longer and stronger (“perfect for the violin, but women can’t play the violin,” he told her). But then – like other show business siblings – Wolfie whimpered for lessons, too, to their father’s delight. At first the siblings toured with their father, and later Nannerl was left home, to learn the more womanly tasks like homemaking and embroidery. Being on the road like that, her mother feared, would make her too vain and unattractive to a potential husband.

Milo – the author and performer of this work –  created a very special world on stage to tell Nannerl’s story. The stark black stage has a single element: an enormous puddle of creamy looking silk – Nannerl’s dress – with letters and other trinkets from her life story tucked into the folds.  Milo appears in a very proper 18th century corset (a metaphor, perhaps, for the constraints on women’s lives back then) and steps into the center of this grand frock. As she tells her story, she picks items from her skirt – her first music lesson book, a tiny white keyboard – to advance her story in each careful gesture. Milo is expressive: her face, her gestures, every toss of her head and its bouncy, curly tuffs, convey something in her story. It’s an all sensory show, too.

Besides Milo’s monologue, with her clear voice rising and falling in delight and despair, snippets of music come and go, from Nannerl’s work,  brother’s, and Nannerl’s role model Viennese composer Marianna Martines. Milo’s husband Nathan Davis and composer Phyllis Chen composed other pieces, too, that replicate the clinking of silver teaspoons on tea cups, and tinkling bells and music boxes. There are subtle scents, too:  when she speaks of smelling lavender, Milo dusts the air with fragrant powder. The stage lights catch the sheer shimmery particles like a sheer veil as the gentle scent disperses. These moments give the show more of a performance-art feel than a straight stage play, and gives Nannerl a delicacy of spirit that transcends whatever regret or jealousy she may have about forsaking her musical gifts for a traditional marriage.

Milo’s text is rich and the stage devices – from the ornate prop-holding dress designed by Magdalena Dabrowska to Milo’s dramatic exit – contain some small (or expansive) insight into the life of an 18th century woman who – in another time – may have led a very different life.

This show is an interesting experience. Milo obviously did significant research on both the woman and this period in history. Often I felt her voice was overly strident which was a distraction from the impact of her words. To lift a phrase from the multi-Tony-award winning phenom ‘Hamilton,’ “who lives, who dies, who tells your story,’ Milo’s homage to Nannerl is worthy, and inspire reflection on how history treats those who don’t or can’t have a world spotlight on them.

Running Time: 80-minutes with no intermission.

“The Other Mozart” runs until May 7, 2017 and is presented at Shea’s 710 Theatre in Buffalo. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Father’ at Kavinoky Theatre

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The cast of “The Father” at Kavinoky Theatre.

There are plenty of plays, films, books (fiction and non-fiction) about Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia. Playwright  Florian Zeller’s “The Father,” which he calls a tragic farce is different. Very different. Where other offerings may be touching or emotional or just very sad, “The Father” – through theatrical devices, characters and dialogue – evokes rich and raw substance. The secret sauce is its simplicity. It’s so simple that it will linger with you, longer than you think. That’s the essence of its brilliance.

“David Lamb is extraordinary. . .”

David Lamb is extraordinary as Andre the father. He’s witty, he’s a flirt, he’s intense. And he’s withering. He’s convinced his caregiver is stealing his watch (a metaphor for time, perhaps), he’s critical of the caregiver’s laugh. Of course he doesn’t feel that he needs her. At least that’s what he tells his daughter Anne, beautifully played by Aleks Malejs. But Anne has her own life and she’s unwilling to leave her father without support. Until the scene shifts and someone else was in the door, saying she’s his daughter, with a different husband. And said husband disappears with groceries that are never made into a meal. And Anne is back, while her father laments – finally – that he feels that he’s “losing his leaves.”  That’s the most frightening part of this disease: there are points when you know you’re fading, and other times when you’re completely convinced you’re fine, and who are these people around you?

Malejs (last seen at The Kavinoky in the magnificent one-person show ‘Grounded’) is strong as Anne, concerned, caring, sad, and unwavering.  Adriano Gatto and Christopher Evans are the two other men of the show, who may or may not be Anne’s husbands. Gatto’s measured indifference to Andre’s needs in one moment is almost chilling, but perhaps that’s the way a frustrated, confused spouse-in-law may act when sharing a home with someone whose life is evolving. In smaller but significant roles are Kristin Bentley and Jenn Stafford, as caregiver Laura and and daughter/healthcare provider respectively.  

The elegance of this staging is…the stage itself. David King’s stunning, versatile set diminishes in scope as Andre’s cognition wanes.  Hard blackouts allow the scenes to change and those soft-lit patterns above center stage is Andre’s gray matter, shifting, shrinking, tangling, leaving him. The actors move through these changes gracefully. Director Robert Waterhouse’s careful attention to the smallest details and nuances is pristine and remarkable.

In the end, it’s Lamb’s show. Watching his expressions, his language, his being close in on itself is heartbreaking. The ultimate scene, as Stafford and Lamb communicate one last time, will make you catch your breath. Don’t look away.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

“The Father” runs until May 14, 2017 and is presented at The Kavinoky Theatre in Buffalo. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Great God Pan’ at Jewish Repertory Theatre

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The cast of “The Great God Pan” at Jewish Repertory Theatre.

When you think back to your childhood, what do you really remember? Was it all popsicles, playgrounds, and snuggles, or is your subconscious blocking more disturbing moments? And – over time – is not remembering some traumatic really an advantage?

“. . .the story is strong, and Hummert’s performance alone is well worth the experience.”

How our psyche revises our perceptions of life history is the essence of Amy Herzog’s fascinating drama “The Great God Pan,” the final production in this season’s trio of her work at the Jewish Repertory Theatre.

Herzog’s work always examines a deeper side of family life, those moments that define us, where multiple generations look through life’s prism differently, and where shared experiences emerge with disparate outcomes. It’s intense and thoughtful work, and it’s the basis of really superb human drama. Herzog is a modern master at this very real storytelling.

This is a character-driven story, and this each character has plenty of baggage and long-repressed memories. The major forces are two childhood chums who meet again many years since they last hung out in daycare. Jordan Louis Fischer is Frank, the instigator of the meeting. Gay, pierced, and tattooed, he small talks with Jamie (Adam Yellen), the seemingly uncomfortable, reluctant guest, until he gets to the point: Frank is bringing suit against his father who sexually abused him as a child. He asks if Jamie remembers. He doesn’t. Watch the stage dynamic here: it’s fascinating. As Frank opens up, Jamie shuts down, imperceptive. Later – when Jamie tells his girlfriend Paige (Kelly Beuth) about this meeting – she says, “You’re always so weird with gay men, calling them ‘man’ and ‘dude.’ Did you do that?” Frank and Paige have their own issues. She’s angry with Jamie: seems he wasn’t immediately overjoyed when she announced that –surprise – she’s pregnant. In their volatile exchange, some of their past is revealed, perhaps the words that should remain unspoken.

Still perplexed by Frank’s revelation, Jamie takes his story to his parents, affable Cathy and Doug (perfectly played by Steve Vaughan and Lisa Vitrano, respectively) who have their own set of secrets from Jamie’s childhood. Watch for that awkward moment between father and son: hug or handshake? Seems like Jamie keeps everyone at arm’s length. Jamie begins to remember odd bits and pieces: were they true or mere suggestions?

The most poignant moments in this show belong to two tertiary characters. Darleen Pickering Hummert is Polly, Frank and Jamie’s childhood caregiver. She’s in a nursing home now, and as dementia dims her memories, she remembers the young kids in her care, perhaps fleetingly. Hummert is magnificent in this small role. When Jamie visits, we see joy in her remembering, along with her pain at not remembering. Her exquisite expressions are haunting, beautiful, painful.

Amelia Scinta has two all-too-brief scenes as Joelle, a client in Paige’s nutrition counseling practice, who is struggling with body image and an eating disorder. Scinta modulates her voice and expressions perfectly, moving from upbeat to disdain at how her body is failing her. There’s a strange power in these two scenes as Joelle seeks to control her body and change her mindset. Scinta nails this.

Director Saul Elkin maximizes the real value of this square stage. Each quadrant is a scene space, with actors effortlessly moving small set pieces between them. Two key scenes are metaphorically at dead center – physically touching a sliver of each space – in a subtle reminder that past and present are inter-reliant. He uses small, soft sound effects so well, setting the mood from coffee shop to park.

Strangely, it’s the two main characters that gave me pause. Beuth and Yellen are both fine actors with plenty of acting chops, yet they didn’t seem suited for their two roles. Consequently, their rapport – and lack thereof – felt off. She looked too mature to be his girlfriend. Hints of her life struggles are brushed off without giving depth to her character. Even with the bushy untrimmed beard of a millennial, Yellen looks out of place with his character. Or he’s playing flat and emotionless at a very high level.

Despite this, the story is strong, and Hummert’s performance alone is well worth the experience.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Advisory: Adult language.

“The Great God Pan”  runs until May 21, 2017 and is presented at Jewish Repertory Theatre in Buffalo. For more information, click here.