The Band’s Visit at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The Company of “The Band’s Visit” North American Tour. Photo by Evan Zimmerman.

It’s a busy season at Shea’s Performing Art Center with three musicals running through November! First up is The Band’s Visit, based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, which tells the tale of some Egyptian musicians who get lost on their way to a concert in Israel. 

Going into this performance, all that I knew of The Band’s Visit was that it had a very successful year at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards where it was nominated for 11 awards and won 10, including Best Musical. However, I was not familiar with any of the music or the storyline which is a rare occurrence for me. The show oddly opens with a projected caption on the curtain stating, “Once, not so long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” On the surface level, this can basically sum up the entire show. The occurrences and conflicts onstage all take place within a 24-hour time span and focus on average, daily events. It is up to you as an audience member to read deeper into each interaction, connect with it, and discover personal take-aways. In this regard, I’m not sure this show is really meant for everyone. If you’re looking for show-stopping numbers with eye-catching costumes, choreography, and effects, this isn’t for you. This is for the audience member who appreciates music, people, and how the two seamlessly connect. 

At the beginning of the show, band member Haled (Joe Joseph) is tasked with purchasing bus tickets for the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra’s trip to Petah Tikvah for their performance the following evening. When communicating with the ticket clerk, his Egyptian accent causes a misunderstanding, and the tickets are instead purchased for the isolated desert town of Bet Hatikva. The group’s leader, Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria (Sasson Gabay), and the rest of the band don’t realize this error until they arrive in Bet Hatikva and get an introduction to the town from local restaurant owner, Dina (Janet Dacal), and two café employees, Papi (Coby Getzug) and Itzik (Clay Singer). Since there are no more busses available until the following morning and the small town doesn’t have any hotels, Dina suggests the band divide and spend the night with her, Papi, or Itzik at their respective homes. 

The audience is able to experience three different lives and environments alongside the band members including Dina’s lifestyle, Itzik’s home and life with his wife, their baby, and his father-in-law, and Papi’s double-date experience at a roller-rink. The evening is filled with getting acquainted, supporting each other, and of course: music! Most of the instrumental music is created onstage with a variety of instruments and sounds. The talent of the band is truly incredible and provides a constant heartbeat to the show. Many pieces of music are about music itself like “The Beat of Your Heart”, “Something Different”, and “Itzik’s Lullaby”. I thoroughly enjoyed the all the elements of humor throughout the show like Getzug’s hilarious rendition of “Papi Hears the Ocean”. Similarly, Dacal’s comedic timing as Dina is perfect and Joshua Grosso’s commitment to his role as Telephone Guy is fantastic.

While the show may feel slow-moving at times, it’s definitely an interesting and unique production that causes you to reflect on the ability of music to bring people together and the power of a simple change in one’s routine. If you’re a music-enthusiast, you can’t miss this thoughtful and heartfelt production. The show runs through November 7th, is 90 minutes in length without an intermission, and includes 15 musical numbers.

For more information, click here.

Spirited Show at D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patience is Indeed a Virtue for All for One Productions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heathers at SUNY Buffalo State

The Heathers story has existed as a cult classic since the movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater was released in 1988. The Off-Broadway musical, written by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy in 2014, restored interest in the dark comedy. It’s not often we can laugh at bullying and murder, but that’s what this script encourages the audience to do.

The production at Buffalo State, running through October 30th, has all the right pieces to create a solid production. As Veronica, Lexus Hale possesses an incredible vocal instrument, which might have been a little tired during the production I saw. The Heathers, played by Carolyn Freeman, Link Hagerty, and Kathleen Dunne, are certainly embracing the popular girl cliche. Freeman’s strongest moment comes in “The Me Inside of Me,” but I don’t want to reveal why in case you’ve somehow never seen anything Heathers related. The performance of the night for me came from Jake Grear in “My Dead Gay Son.” Act One ends a little heavy, and Grear’s performance does all it’s intended to. It’s a true show-stopper.

While the vocal talent in the production is on display and the choreography is terrific, I felt like the energy at the performance I attended was a little low. Much of Heathers depends on fast-paced humor to diffuse the darkness of the material. I felt that the pacing and delivery sometimes took the audience out of the performance. That kind of problem generally disappears as performances continue, so it didn’t overshadow the aforementioned standout performances.

Overall, the Buffalo State production of Heathers is an ambitious attempt at material that is very nuanced, with excellent vocal performances abounding. 

Photograph 51 Holds the Secret of Life at JRT

One of my favorite James Taylor songs begins with these lyrics: “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time…”

Sometimes we’re robbed of time. Sometimes we’re robbed of opportunity. Part of the human condition. For real-life British scientist Rosalind Franklin, the focus of Photograph 51, presented by Jewish Repertory Theatre, her early death (at age 37 from ovarian cancer), robbed her of both, and so much more.

Franklin was a ground-breaking researcher with a fascination for shapes, images, and patterns. In fact, the show begins with her monologue as she reminisces about looking through a camera for the first time at an arrangement of fallen leaves. She wasn’t creating art, she says, she was fascinated by the shapes refracted through the lens. This curiosity led her to the field of xray crystallography, the study of molecular and atomic cellular structure. The repeated and organized patterns that make up cells hold the secret of life and all its creations. She was hooked.

One quick sidebar: the study of crystallography may spark resonance with Buffalonians, as downtown Buffalo is home to the National Crystallization Center (a national resource for crystallography research) located in the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute. Ironically, the Institute’s founding in 1956 was funded  by the largesse of a woman, Helen Woodward Rivas, whose family wealth came from the Genesee Pure Food Company, the makers of Jell-O…crystals of an entirely different ilk.

Back to the show.  In short, it’s riveting. Kristen Tripp Kelley is focused and fiery as Franklin. She makes the visceral passion and determination of a scientist incredibly real and palpable. You can see Franklin’s intensity through every movement of Kelley’s pencil in her journal or the turn of her head. You feel her anger when she’s marginalized by her peers. The supporting cast – a group of five male scientists in pursuit of their own scholarly work – orbit around Franklin with varying levels of dismissive disdain and vague fascination. Could this 1950s-era woman of all things really be on the cusp of a discovery that would change how we view the building blocks of life and cure disease, too? It was that chance glimpse of an image – the infamous Photograph 51 – that held the proverbial key.  Jacob Albarella as Francis Crick, Ray Boucher as Don Casper, Dan Torres as Ray Gosling, Adam Yellen as James Watson are each fine in their roles. It’s John Profeta’s portrayal of Maurice Wilkins, the biophysicist who ‘assumed’ Franklin was joining his Kings College lab to support his work, is captivating – first in his arrogance and later in his veiled admiration – and is a perfect foil for Kelley as Franklin.

Staging is sparse and spare thanks to designer David Dwyer’s deft hand and elegantly lit by Brian Cavanagh.  They create a mood here that’s nuanced enough to have subtle power. Your focus is oh so meant to be on words by playwright Anna Ziegler and purposeful stage movement orchestrated by director Katie Mallinson. Sublime.

There’s a lot to unpack in this production. Franklin knew her work was leading to major breakthroughs, yet her peers didn’t honor her contributions. Cancer took her life before she could make further professional strides. Even the Nobel Prize committee – which lauded the work of her peers with the prize in Chemistry  in 1962 and later awarded another colleague the same prize for advanced crystallography work in 1982 – didn’t grant her posthumous recognition.   

In reading about Franklin’s real life, she did indeed travel to the U.S., albeit not to Buffalo, where a woman’s support was quietly developing a facility where researchers (many who happen to be women) have made – and are still making – life changing discoveries in crystallography and other fields of science. Dr. Franklin, they are grateful for your bold manner and solid work.

Photograph 51 is 90 minutes long (one act) with no intermission, onstage at the Maxine and Robert Sellers Theatre in Getzville, until November 14. Visit https://www.jccbuffalo.org/jrt/ for tickets and details.

“A Chorus Line” at O’Connell & Company

The cast of “A Chorus Line” at O’Connell & Company.

“A Chorus Line” with book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban opened this weekend at O’Connell & Company. This long running Broadway musical won Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. It was conceived and originally directed and choreographed by Buffalo’s Michael Bennett. The kids in the chorus of musicals, nicknamed the Gypsies, are usually not recognized for their dedication to dance and theatre or acknowledged for their unique personalities and backgrounds. This show was based on a series of late night workshops that Gypsies had with Michael Bennett where he tape recorded their life stories. Many of the stories appear verbatim in the script and lyrics for this show.

The O’Connell & Company production of “A Chorus Line” has been directed and choreographed by DeWayne Barrett who is a veteran of many productions of this show. His choreography is impressive – especially the long, complicated opening audition sequence and the show’s grand finale, “One.” Mr. Barrett also appears on stage as the director, Zach, and he gives the role a commanding presence. 

This is an ambitious undertaking – casting sixteen very specific characters who have to be played by performers who are strong singers, dancers, and actors. There is a large cast and I got the feeling that everyone was very glad to be back onstage after the long pandemic hiatus. Heading up the company is Aimee Lynn Walker as Cassie, a character based in part on Donna McKechnie who had a long term and volatile relationship with Michael Bennett. Ms. Walker’s big solo number, “The Music and the Mirror” elected cheers and whistles from the audience and the best acting of the evening is her fight scene with Zach.

The talented cast also includes James Anthony Caposito who has plenty of zip, all the right moves, and is one of the best dancers in the production. His solo number “I Can Do That” starts the show off with a big wonderful bang. Anna Fernandez is a stunning and forthright Morales.

Kris Bartolomeo is a formidable Sheila. Ms. Bartolomeo is always in character and, because of that, she is a standout even in the group numbers. Her monologue and “At the Ballet” were affecting.

In smaller roles, but also making a strong impression, are Marc Thagard who is an adorable Richie and who dances with great verve and Joey Bucheker who is riveting as the intense Leonard Frey-type  of the group. Thomas Evans and Lizzie Arnold are perfectly in sync as a married couple and they do a joyous job with their duet, “Sing.” 

This is a high spirited, pleasing production that has obviously been mounted with lots of love and attention to detail.

Masks are optional but encouraged. Proof of vaccination must be shown for admittance. 

The show runs 2 and half hours including a 15 minute intermission.

Tootsie – Now on Stage at Shea’s

Full disclosure: I generally don’t enjoy productions that morph from screen to stage.

I prepared myself to embrace Tootsie, now on stage at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre, with an open mind, and pushed my 1982 movie memories to the back of my brain. So a show with music and lyrics by David Yazbek (writing for screen to stage shows is his thing, having done so for The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrel, Women on the Verge…, and The Band’s Visit which is next on stage at Shea’s), seeing Buffalo gal Dominique Kempf in her first national tour, and the opportunity to be back in Shea’s again after a long intermission, how can it be bad?

Truth be told, it wasn’t horrible. Nor was it the best thing I’ve seen in this venerable house. Yazbek’s score was lively and clever, albeit not terribly memorable, beginning with an overture (a wonderful throwback that most musicals skip nowadays…there was an ent’racte, too) and a bright and snappy opening number. Straight up we meet Michael Dorsey (played by Drew Becker), a struggling stage actor and waiter who has high-minded opinions about the roles he is offered – and regrettably loses –  thanks to his passion for truth and depth. His roommate and aspiring playwright Jeff (Jared David Michael Grant) is his deadpan sidekick. Grant has some of the best lines with perfect delivery, too. He even cleaned up Bill Murray’s iconic observation of his roommate’s dual persona ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38lkRCedEys).

Up next is Michael’s ex girlfriend Sandy Lester (Payton Reilly), a whirlwind of neuroses and emotions as she clamors for acting roles, too. Her repeated “What’s Gonna Happen” theme song is a study in rapid fire words and feelings in a funny sort of jumble. Sandy is pursuing a role in a sequel to Romeo and Juliet, and she when isn’t cast, Michael decides to audition, too…in the persona of Dorothy Michaels, a good ol’Southern girl who speaks her mind and by golly don’t people start listening. He wins the role and influences a plot pivot and title change. Michael as Dorothy is admired and liked and heard…and is falling in love with his leading lady (Ashley Alexandra) who thinks Dorothy is her new mentor. But the cast dumb-as-a-post hunk Max (Lukas James Miller) is falling for Dorothy, too. What’s a girl/guy to do?

In between all this, there are lovely costumes (the ‘50s styles glam gorgeous billowy ball gowns), some wonderful choreography, and plenty of funny bits. There is some meat behind the plot, too: self-realization and the value of true friends and digging deep to do what’s right all will prevail. It was also great to see Ashley Alexandra in her leading role: she’s a full figured woman cast in a part that – in a less inclusive world – might have gone to someone else. Brava. What I didn’t love were the overly long pregnant pauses to milk the laughs for an extra beat or two.

This is the first national tour for the Tony Award-winning show and the cast projects a strong ensemble vibe. It was wonderful to see Kempf on this stage, after enjoying her outstanding work at MusicalFare Theatre’s Ragtime, and West Side Story.

The story may be ho-hum but the energy is high and overall it’s entertaining. And Shea’s, it’s just good to be home.

Tootsie runs a little over two hours with a 15-minute intermission; it is onstage until October 16: visit sheas.org for details.

All Through the Night Opens Varlets’ Season

The cast of “All Through The Night.”

Those of us of a certain age may remember watching “Fractured Fairy Tales,” one of Jay Ward’s staples in weekend morning TV cartoons. Each installment put a different spin on a traditional fairytale that –truth be told – was probably meant to appeal to the adults watching with their kids.

All Through the Night  by Shirley Lauro is staged by the 15 years-fabulous Brazen-Faced Varlets at Alleyway Theatre and it uses a chillingly fairytale set up to tell the story of a group of German Gentile woman in the never-idyllic days of Nazis and World War II.

Scripted as a series of vignettes (complete with fairytale titles displayed on her work table) with  Ludmilla – the village baker – as the moderator, All Through the Night is painfully, poignantly, all too real account of how Nazism manipulated and brainwashed its followers to spew hate and pain on any person who didn’t fit the party’s idea of perfection.

Ludmilla (Kaeli McGinnis) starts the show with lots of cheery smiles and vocal animation as she reflects on the girls she knew and the village girl’s school. School is changing, jah, as the “man on the hill” is promising a new society. And change it does. We meet Angelika (Jessie Miller) a devout Catholic who dreams of running a clinic in Africa, Friederike (Sarah Emmerling), the wealthy rebel who skips school to listen to American jazz at a verboten cabaret, and Gretchen (Stefanie Warnick), the good girl who wants to please authority thinking it will help her family.  Kathleen Rooney appears in multiple roles identified as the The Fraus, first as the school’s new headmistress, then the nurse at a Third Reich-run hospital, and finally as the sadistic leader of the women’s tent in the village square.  The story leads the ensemble from school girl innocence to shrewd, cunning women doing what they can to survive. Frederike’s wealth doesn’t elevate her from humiliation. Angelika’s faith doesn’t deliver her from suffering. Gretchen’s party loyalty doesn’t lead her to the perfect life. Each actor is strong and tight in their role. McGinnis’ Ludmilla and Rooney’s Frau roles are at opposite end of the spectrum: Mc Ginnis’ Ludmilla grows wiser in adversity and Rooney’s Frau just gets more evil. You have to love Ludmilla’s optimism: she’s a survivor to the core and McGinnis plays her just right. It was interesting to note that the ensemble actors are all  brunette and dark eyed while Rooney’s natural blonde hair and blue eyes were solitary reminders of the Aryan goal. While she may look like the kind-hearted Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life sitcom, she was cold to the bone.  Good casting across the board.

Director Lara D. Haberberger wisely kept staging, props, and costuming intentionally simple to allow focus to stay fixed on the script. Rachel Maggs used reversible aprons to transform school to-prisoner-to worker uniforms. Heather Fansgrud’s set was tiered platforms against a lit stockade fence. Props were simple or suggested.  While the director’s notes in the program state that Haberberger had this show on her RADAR for a time, now is the right time to see this production. Admittedly at times it’s not easy to watch: and it’s a startling reminder of inhumane cruelty, yet there are moments of hope and goodness.

There were a few moments when the German words sprinkled into the dialogue were more distracting than evocative, and the attempts at an affected accent were just too phony. (I heard some upper East side New York City socialite in one of Rooney’s speeches.) 

Ludmilla does indeed get her ‘happily ever after’ in this grown up fairytale, even at great expense to humanity. Or in the words of conceptual  artist Jenny Holzer, “abuse of power comes as no surprise.”

All Through the Night runs a long two and quarter hours with one 10-minute intermission, until October 24. Visit www.varlets.org for details.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit at Alleyway Theatre

The cast of White Rabbit Red Rabbit at Alleyway Theatre.

The Alleyway Theatre is looking very snazzy under the new management of Chris J. Handley. The lobby, in particular, has had a terrific makeover and now sports a glorious full wall mural by Audra Linsner. There are more beverage options at the bar than there used to be, and munchies have started to be introduced, too. The times, they are a-changing! 

The WNY premiere of White Rabbit Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour opens the Alleyway season. This theatrical piece is performed by one actor and the role can be played by an actor of any age, gender, or appearance. I saw the production on September 24 and the actor that evening was Don Gervasi.

I had asked our editor for a ticket for either the night Mr. Gervasi or Todd Benzin was performing as I had heard that feeling comfortable with improv would be a real asset for whoever performed this piece, and Don Gervasi and Todd Benzin are the absolutely top improvisers in town. I was glad that I saw the play on the night that Mr. Gervasi was starring because his onstage ad libs were the funniest lines in the show.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit was written in 2010 by a young man who couldn’t leave Iran because he refused to serve in the military but who wanted his voice to be heard around the world. Playwright Soleimanpour’s wish was certainly granted — this theatre piece has been a huge hit worldwide with productions in more than 20 different languages.

The gimmick here is that there is a new actor every night and this actor is handed the script, in a sealed envelope, onstage and performs a cold reading. I love this concept – it’s sounds fresh and exciting – but parts of this play are very wordy and a cold reading of page after page is not necessarily the best way to keep an audience’s attention. 

Styles, tone, and mood change considerably throughout the evening. My companion and I enjoyed Mr. Gervasi’s humor and confidence. We liked the audience participation element very much – although some of the set-ups weren’t taken to completion. I can’t be more specific. The audience is not supposed to give away anything about this play. This is by no means the fault of Mr. Gervasi. The play itself takes strange twists and turns — sometimes philosophical, sometimes Pirandello-esque.

The set by Christopher Swader and Justin Swader is clean and stark with appropriately red touches. Emma Schimminger’s lighting is very effective. 

Kudos to Don Gervasi, Todd Benzin, and all the other courageous “rabbits” for tackling this demanding assignment! 

Next onstage at the Alleyway Theatre is a brand new Golden Girls show directed by Todd Warfield and tickets are going fast! Incidentally, there was a nice sized audience at White Rabbit Red Rabbit, too. I was thrilled about seeing so many theatre goers downtown again. Audiences members must show proof of vaccination and wear masks throughout the evening.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit runs about 85 minutes, depending on the actor’s delivery and the audience participation element. For more information, click here.

“To the New Girl…” at New Phoenix Theatre

Sarah Emmerling as Elissa

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

And if that woman has your address  – physical or email – there’s a good chance you’re gonna hear from her.

Sharing pearls of personal wisdom between the about-to-be-ex and the trade-in is the premise behind To The New Girl from the Former Mrs. ___: Sound Advice for my husband’s new wife or mistress on stage now at the New Phoenix Theatre. Playwright and filmmaker Samantha Macher wrote the stage version in 2011 (she later adapted it to a film) with 10 different women actors delivering epistolary monologues. The one thing they all have in common:  they have something to say to the person who now is the proverbial apple of her husband’s eye.

Each monologue is a story onto itself and the actors range in age, marital (or not) commitment, and social status. Infidelity is the great equalizer here.

The staging is simple: maybe one or two set pieces are moved to a dark stage with as many props per scene. It’s stark which adds extra emphasis on the works and the delivery.

It starts off innocent enough, with even a bit a humor. Zoe (Jessie Miller) is a former internet dominatrix whose beau has an adult baby fetish (yup, he’s the baby) and she aghast that there’s another woman in town willing to play mama. Next up is Miriam (Kathleen Recchione), a Jewish grandmother whose husband announces at Seder that he’s starting over…with a Catholic woman. Bethany (Vanessa Shevat) is calculating as she is charming as she plans how to manage her televangelist husband’s fling with…a man. Davida Tolbert is Sheila, a woman who can’t bring a pregnancy to term who learns her husband’s  new interest gave birth to twins. Her anger fierce, her disappointment in her body is palpable, and she manages to land some of the only purely funny lines of the night (“I hope your baby is as fat as Oprah in the ‘90s…”).  Ciara Davie is Faye, the youngest of the team, whose ex is a felon holding her engagement ring hostage. Alexis (Kari Becker) is the wealthy social climber, who coldly tells her daughter’s nanny that her husband’s abuse is part of the gig. Karen (Kathryn Schneider) is the teacher who finds a former student is her husband’s new study buddy.  Melanie (Pandora Kew, also the co-producer) is completely enraged as she offers strong warnings to her replacement, as sheshares horrific details of physical, emotional, and psychological abuse. Elissa (Sarah Emmerling) dons her bridal gown as she reflects on her husband’s admission of longing for his high school sweetheart. Mary Craig ends the show on wistful, bittersweet note as Give ‘Em Hell, Harriet, whose loving husband Harold lives his final days in a nursing home as his withering capacities direct him to a fellow patient.

It is an emotional roller coaster with 10 different highs and lows of heartbreak, disappointment, anger, and a twist of revenge planning, too.  With only a few minor quibbles (Elissa’s bed might have been angled differently and Karen’s story seemed a bit disjointed) , each actor does a solid job telling their character’s story, from Alexis’ frosty facts of privileged life  to Zoe’s kitten-with-a-switch outrage. It’s Kew and Craig who make you sit a little straighter in your seat. Kew is visibly trembling with anger from the moment her light comes up. Her jaw is tensed so tightly the words growl from her lips. Two scenes later, Craig is tender and loving as her memory is fading from her husband’s mind. They were married 57 years (58 in August), she says, and as he turns his affection to someone else, he is still her great love. This was the perfect way to end this often biting and bitter show. Sometimes love shouldn’t, couldn’t fade away, even in the ultimate betrayal.

Permit me one minor rant here: I love everything there is about WNY theatre, from big to small, Theatre District across town to the ‘burbs. All live theatre is good (even when it’s not) and deserves support and engagement. That’s my main reason for volunteering as a reviewer (I’m the first to admit I’m not the theatrical authority, I’m just a Buffalo gal who wants to encourage others to support local theatre). It’s not lost on me that the house at New Phoenix was pretty light in its second weekend, while a few blocks east, another theatre was packed and enjoying a stunningly presented fantasy about two other less than real women. There is room for fantasy and reality in life and on stage. It’s my hope that the fantasy seekers also make the time and allocate personal resources to see locally produced shows, too, whether it is another musical, drama or comedy.  Rant over.

“To the New Girl…” runs a tight 90 minutes with no intermission until October 3. Visit www.newphoenixtheatre.com for details and tickets.