If COVID’s theatre blackout period delivered one positive thing, it’s the option for regional theatre companies to successfully present smaller cast, one act productions. As much as I love a full-on, two and a half hour show with an intermission, these one act, two and three-handers are a little slice of stage heaven.
The latest one is Constellations by Nick Payne, beautifully presented by Second Generation Theatre at Shea’s Smith Theatre.
It’s a show of scenes, often repeated multiple times with the same set up, same script, and different outcomes, all skillfully directed by Michael Wachowiak. If you’re a fan of the TV series This Is Us, you’re comfortable in this format of flashbacks and flashforwards, where scenes may not immediately make sense, but coalesce in surprisingly simple and evocative ways.
Actors Kristin Bentley and Chris Avery are Marianne (the physicist) and Roland (the beekeeper), meeting by chance at a friend’s barbecue. This is a love story with a side of physics. Yes, physics. Not the nerd love of Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler of Big Bang Theory fame. (I know, another TV show touchpoint.) In this show the focus is on the people and the science is backburnered. Love and the universe knit together in a sadly romantic and simply stunning way, because in physics “We have all the time we ever had,” said Marianne.
I think if you would see the script written in a linear, traditional format, perhaps it might only fill a few pages. The repetition – separated by blackouts of varying duration – and the actors’ change of placement give the story an interesting arc that bends like a FM radio wave, wrapping over and around obstacles to reach our listening ears. Wachowiak’s direction here is sublime: the actors move from sitting to standing, stage right to stage left, a step away and 10 paces back, in these spaces between light and dark. Audio effects (the rumble of the Earth’s plates, perhaps) mask their footfalls and movement. It’s like watching still life art come to life.
Bentley and Avery play their roles exceptionally well. Bentley is animated and charming as Marianne, and she focuses like a laser when she talks about science. Avery’s Roland makes notes when he’s describing the world of bees and they bond over their mutual love of order, he for his bees and she for the orders of the universe. She talks about relativity and string theory, he talks about bee habits and how pollen is captured. Their story is sweet, but sometimes the universe has its own plans.
Lighting director Chris Cavanagh also designed the sound and these production elements were as important as the script and actors. Together this ensemble created an exquisite experience.
Constellations is onstage until March 26, running 75 minutes, no intermission, at Shea’s Smith Theatre. Details and tickets at www.secondgenerationtheatre.com.
Red Thread Theatre was formed to advance female representation and engagement in all aspects of theatre in Western New York. The company’s current production is a collaboration with the New Phoenix Theatre. The Children – on stage now at the New Phoenix Theatre to March 26 – was written by playwright Lucy Kirkwood and it begs some interesting questions about women, their work, their families, and their priorities in our increasingly complex world.
The Children was inspired by the devastation caused by a tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan in 2011. Kirkwood sets her reimagined story on the British coast and centers the action around three former co-workers and the way their lives intersect now and in the past. Husband and wife Hazel (Josephine Hogan) and Robin (Peter Palmisano) are retired from their engineer careers at the nuclear power plant. Their family home was badly damaged by the tsunami and is now vacant and silt-filled within the exclusion zone. They’ve relocated to a small cottage with a limited supply of potable water, erratic electrical service, and faulty country plumbing. When Rose, a former colleague, knocks at the door after a 38 year absence, Hazel is sufficiently surprised to bloody Rose’s nose. Oops. The stilted small talk is halting and labored: these two superb actors make their characters’ discomfort palpable. Why is this?: that reason is smoldering beneath the surface of British reserve and apprehension. You soon realize this is more than a chance social visit. When Robin arrives after tending to their small patch of farmland, he’s more excited to visit his old pal (“Give us a squeeze,” Robin exclaimed as Hazel glowers) and there’s some obligatory exchanges about old friends and past parties. Rose is evasive about her personal life. Hazel shares some guarded stories about their children: Rose only remembers their eldest daughter Lauren, still a baby when Rose departed for America. Still Hazel is wary: while she talks of her yoga practice and eating healthy foods, she’s obsessed about the dichotomy between personal growth and death. It’s all very awkward.
Rose has an agenda, too. Well, maybe more than one agenda. She’s rallying the retirees to return to the plant so the younger workers can safely raise their families without threat of contamination. The pretext is that the retirees have a deeper understanding of plant’s operations and history since this was the team that built it, faults and all.
The subtext is a deeper examination of immortality, social responsibility, and the generational transfer of environmental justice, with a shot of “everyone has to die of something sometime” thrown in. In short, it’s a lot to unpack in 90 minutes.
Director Robert Waterhouse does a fine job with this trio of actors, a simple yet evocative set, and some spare and effective stage effects. The final scene’s lighting was elegant: lighting designer Chris Cavanagh got it just right.
Hogan, Dugan and Palmisano play off each other wonderfully. While the real dynamic is between Rose and Hazel, Palmisano’s Robin is the one in between, trying to break tension with homemade wine and banter, he’s quietly fanning the flames between the two women. Ultimately, their decisions about staying or leaving are quiet and almost uneventful as they forge ahead.
The Children is thought provoking for sure and is certain to spark conversation and reflection on the ride home. It’s meant to be.
The Children runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission: visit http://www.newphoenixtheatre.org. New Phoenix Theatre requires proof of vaccination and facemasks for all audience members (the printed program says “Vax and a mask, then relax” and we like that). I’m always minorly irked when smoking material is used on stage (ew) and when the printed program has spelling inconsistencies and unclear contact information.
To paraphrase Jane Austen, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that productions at D’Youville Kavinoky Professional Theatre are gorgeously staged and thoroughly enjoyable.”
Well, that’s what this affirmed Janeite thinks about Kate Hamill’s adaptation of the iconic novel Pride & Prejudice on stage now to March 27.
While Hamill took some liberties, they were noble and with purpose to advance the storyline admirably for the stage. Director Kristen Tripp Kelley is no stranger to Austen or Hamill: back in 2019, she was a Dashwood sister in Irish Classical Theatre Company’s production of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. She also cast S&S alumni Ben Michael Moran and Renee Landrigan and they were fine choices indeed.
If you yawned through your high school assignment to read the book – only to delight in the British TV series in 1995 (two words: Colin Firth) – which prompted you to read the book again and love every smartly crafted sentence, you will enjoy it all again on stage. Yes, it’s abbreviated but the most delicious moments are here. Moran is wonderfully smug as Mr. Darcy, the proud man who’s in want of a wife who is not his cousin. Landrigan is double cast as Lydia, the silly youngest sister of the Bennet clan and the haughty Lady Catherine DeBourgh. There’s other clever double, n’igh triple, casting here, too. Lissette is both the winsome Jane Bennet and Miss DeBourgh (under layers of black lace). Diane DeBernardo is the easily vexed Mrs. Bennet and the drole servant. Chris Brandjes is the calm father Mr. Bennet and the eager-to-marry Charlotte Lucas. Jake Albarella is Darcy’s best friend Mr. Bingley and Bennet sister Mary. Jake Hayes brings it as creepy Mr. Collins, slightly dodgy Mr. Wickham and Miss Bingley. Yes, there’s some fine gender-bending here and these three actors carry it off superbly. Lest we forget the equally proud Elizabeth Bennet, charmingly played by Gabriella McKinley.
The whole experience is Regency literature come to life. David King’s set is elegant and complements without competing with theatre’s design. Lindsay Salamone’s costumes are exquisite with rich colors and textures you can see at the back of the house. Robert Cooke choreographs some lovely reels and other period dances to contemporary music played in an early 19th century style. Yes, Journey never sounded so prim and proper. The musicians aren’t identified in the program, but this touch was a delightful aural surprise.
Even if you don’t lock into the plot (in brief, girls must marry well to save the family’s fate and it’s a mother’s duty make perfect matches her full time raison d’etre), there’s a lot to enjoy here, particularly Albarella, Hayes, and Brandjes in their multiple roles. After missing so much live theatre the past couple years, it’s just good to relax and laugh in this luscious house again.
Pride & Prejudice runs about two hours with a 15-minute intermission. Find details and tickets at www.kavinokytheatre.com.
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.
One of the first shows I saw when I was younger was “My Fair Lady.” My mother had won tickets from a radio contest and gave them to my Aunt and I. It wasn’t a magical production. It wasn’t something that I remember fondly. Actually, all I remember about the show was that I went to see it. I was really excited to see a live show, and I was really excited that I had heard a few of the songs prior to going. This was probably 20 years ago. In 2022 I had the privilege to see the Lincoln Center production of Lerner and Loewe’s timeless tale of a lower class woman being taken on as a project to grow to socialite stardom. I’m glad that I didn’t remember the first production I saw, because this one is very memorable.
“My Fair Lady” is one of those classic shows that community theatres and high schools try their best to put on, but usually miss the mark when it comes to casting, set design, orchestral prowess, you name it. It’s a big Broadway musical that has a large expectation that comes along with it. Sometimes shows like this need a big professional production to come along to do the material justice. This is the case with the Lincoln Center Production. Vibrant sets, artistic costume design, and sheer talent take this material and produce a product that audiences are in awe of. Timeless songs such as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverely,” “The Rain In Spain,” and “I’ve Grown Accoustomed To Her Face,” bring life to the Shea’s stage in this rendition. This is the production that audiences dream of.
Leading the show as Henry Higgins is Laird Mackintosh. Mackintosh effortlessly portrays the arrogant and snobby character to a tee. He does such a great job that you find it hard to even care if he succeeds in his goal of turning Eliza into a Duchess. His portrayal is comedic and entertaining.
Shereen Ahmed’s Eliza Doolittle takes the memorable role and makes it her own. Her voice is gorgeous, especially in “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “The Rain In Spain.” Her cockney accent is so spot on that you honestly have no idea what some of her lines are before she gets “fixed” by Higgins.
Crowd Favorites include Kevin Pariseau’s Colonel Pickering – hilarious delivery and stage presence, Sam Simahk’s Freddy – beautiful singing during “On The Street Where You Live,” and Gayton Scott’s Mrs. Pearce – who embodies a Maggie Smith quality in this show.
Barlett Sher’s vision for this material is beautiful. Every scene, every scene transition (for the exception of an opening night slip up with a rotating set hitting a proscenium leg) moves in tune with the music, making it exciting and visually entertaining for the audience.
Michael Yeargan’s sets are breathtaking as are Catherine Zuber’s costumes.
The only criticism of this production that I have is that it is so ungodly long. Yes it is a classic, yes it was written in a time when a person’s attention span was longer than 10 seconds, but couldn’t we have seen the show with one less Higgins’ monologue! Come on Bartlett, I’m sure if you wanted to cut some stuff, they would have let you! This is Broadway!
Running Time: Approximately 3 hours with a 15 minute intermission.
“My Fair Lady” runs until March 6, 2022 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.
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.
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.
“Wow, everything is so bright!”, I remarked as I entered the Shea’s Performing Arts Center last night for the production of Oklahoma!. The lights on the stage felt as though they were turned up so high, it almost hurt my eyes. What I didn’t know was that things were about to get extremely dark…
Prior to attending this more recent touring version of Oklahoma! I’d only been familiar with the music from the original and hadn’t actually seen a live production of it. Perhaps it’s a good thing I’m not a die-hard classic Oklahoma! fan because I went into this experience more open-minded than others in the audience. If the original, classic production is your absolute favorite, this may not be the show for you, and I’ll break down exactly why.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Tells the story of a young farm girl, Laurey Williams (Sasha Hutchings), and her relationships with cowboy Curly McLain (Sean Grandillo) and farmhand Jud Fry (Christopher Bannow). There’s an upcoming social event in town and Curly is set on taking Laurey. However, due to their stubborn nature, neither is very good at communicating their exact feelings for each other. This leads to Laurey accepting Jud’s invitation to the box social even though she clearly voices that he makes her feel uneasy and that she’d rather go with Curly. Meanwhile, Will Parker (Hennessy Winkler) has just returned home from a trip with enough money to finally marry Ado Annie (Sis) who seems to have fallen for a Peddler, Ali Hakim (Benj Mirman) in his absence.
The main premise of the story confused me as I feel like the entirety of the issues faced by the characters could have been avoided if Laurey hadn’t gone to the social with Jud just to spite Curly. At the social, Laurey avoids being alone with Jud until she is finally forced to face him and his unsettling threats. She runs back to Curly, they finally admit their feelings for each other, and they decide to get married all the while fearing Jud’s dangers. The character of Jud is extremely creepy. He mainly resides in an old smokehouse decorated with lewd photos of women and passes his time shooting bats. It’s clear he has become obsessed with Laurey and is often seen pacing outside her window at night. Christopher portrayed a perfectly haunted and ominous version of Jud that you get to further appreciate in extreme close-ups provided by an onstage camera used to project larger than life images of the actors onstage at certain points throughout the show.
The most chilling scene for me was one that took place between Curly and Jud the smokehouse in Act I. This is the first time all of the lights are completely shut off so the audience is left sitting in total darkness only listening to the sounds of the actors’ voices. Curly discusses how Jud could kill himself and seems to be trying to convince him to do so. When you can at last see again, it’s only the black and white extreme close-up images of the two projected on the back wall of the stage as they each sit face to face holding microphones to deliver their lines. The first gunshot to go off in this scene caught me completely by surprise and caused me to jump along with many other audience members. It’s still hard to see clearly, so you have the anxiety of not-knowing what just happened or if a character was killed. The whole scene made me very uncomfortable, which is exactly how it was intended. When at last the bright lights come back on, you’re struck by the severe contrast of the tone.
Something worth noting is the refreshing diversity of the cast. While television and movies are beginning to display a far more diverse range of actors and characters, professional theatre has been lagging behind, especially for older classical musicals like those of Rogers and Hammerstein. This cast includes an array of various races, backgrounds, shapes, and sizes. Sasha as leading lady Laurey was an outstanding choice. I fell in love with her character choices, stage presence, and musical interpretations. Sis brings a completely new and unexpected representation of Ado Annie. It’s about time we brought similar diversity in casting to classic Broadway productions.
Throughout the first act, I was pretty onboard with all the new artistic interpretations of this show. It’s the second act that definitely lost me. Act II opens with the Dream Ballet which typically portrays what Laurey is dreaming/hallucinating about Curly and Jud. In contrast, this version mainly displays the dancing abilities of just Gabrielle Hamilton as the Lead Dance. Gabrielle is without a doubt very talented and skilled in various styles of dance. However, the whole sequence seemed a bit too deep, symbolic, and “out there” for your typical audience member to grasp. I felt extremely confused and unsettled at the same time. It was also very long. In fact, the entire show is very long. Two hours and forty-five minutes to be exact. The second part of Act II that lost me was the final wedding sequence and song “Oklahoma”. Without giving too much away, it’s a pretty visual and upsetting representation of violence that contrasts completely with the song being sung. The show almost ends on a nice note! Things are finally going well and happily ever is was near. Then BANG! A tragedy.
Overall, this is a talented cast and creative reimagining of an old favorite. Sean as Curly was another standout for me whose voice will have swooning from the very beginning. Perhaps if you were prepared to experience the darkness and depth of what at one point could have been considered a more fun, light musical, you’d be more open to the theatrical experience. This isn’t a show for a casual theatregoer or your Grandma. This is a show for people who understand the complexity of theatre, symbolism, and artistic expression.
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.
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.