Head for The Oregon Trail at Alleyway

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berserker Is an Ursine-Driven Love Story

If a bear dances in the woods, will a teacher find true love?

Berserker, on stage now at Alleyway Theatre, is full of similar existential questions, with a killer Led Zeppelin soundtrack, too.

This was a 2019 Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition winner for good reason. Playwright Bruce Walsh created a quirky, complex, endearing set of characters in a multi-layered love story with some interesting twists.

Pete Green (Patrick Cameron) is a teacher who set off to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, leaving his lady (not his wife, we hear repeatedly) Vicky (Kelly Copps) at home.  They share a home, a daughter, and a profession, and this brief respite doesn’t seem foreboding. While Vicky is relishing some quiet time listening to Chopin, Pete is spooked when he sees a bear. And then he wanders off-trail onto private property and is spooked a second time when he hears a voice coming from the birdfeeder/trail cam, first singing Zeppelin’s 1969 megahit “Whole Lotta Love” and then admonishing him for trespassing onto private property. Seems he’s stumbled onto the grounds of LeiberCraft, a multiplayer gaming platform tech company. He’s intrigued by the voice in the birdhouse. They faux-flirt around their shared Led-Head obsession until she finally directs him off-grounds. Back home with Vicky, he decides to leave his traditional classroom gig to pursue a teaching job with one student – the LeiberCraft founding 12 year old gaming wizard named Mason – and perhaps a spark a relationship with Soojin the voice in the birdfeeder (Sara Kow-Falcone), the corporate attorney who signs him to the gig. This is the start of the real love story; between teacher and student, and between music-lovers who get swept away, and between a boy and a bear and fast-food left overs.

Director Robyn Lee Horn got her casting exactly right with this group. Cameron is wonderfully focused as the bear-phobic teacher in heart and mind turmoil and in charge of the frenetic Mason (Haleigh Curr).

Curr’s physical comedy is outstanding, scaling a desk to back-bend off it seconds later. Blurting out expletives in one minute, and then pensively pondering the next-level thinking behind why Pete is using Beowulf as a lesson. Curr is an amazing young talent cast in a pretty extraordinary role.

Kow-Falcone is fierce-tender as Soojin the lawyer with a compelling backstory that sneaks into the plot in bits and pieces. Copps as Vicky, the non-wife and mother to Pete’s daughter, is gentle and strong as she moves on with her life while Pete makes other choices. Watch her face and her body language: her subtle gestures are as in-your-face as a Robert Plant falsetto.

The technical team did a masterful job in staging this work. Emma Schimminger’s lighting scheme complemented Collin Ranney’s three-place set beautifully with some fun surprises. Nicholas Quinn designed a great soundscape that reminded that Zeppelin’s “All Of My Love” is still my favorite.

Full disclosure: I didn’t love the ending. I felt the last five minutes or so spun an incredible plot into some odd places. Hey, not-quite-mid-life crises happen, and they aren’t all weird. Up to that point, the story was a unique and powerful examination of the power of music to attract and influence our decisions and choices. And that love and belief in someone else can change lives. Or to put it in Zeppelin-speak,”there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

Berserker runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission, on stage to April 23. When you visit www.alleyway.com to book your seats, click over to www.alleyway.com/education to learn more about a powerful student engagement on April 20, #Enough Plays to End Gun Violence, and Buffalo’s role in this national effort.

31st Annual Buffalo Quickies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Theatre Review: ‘The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – Holiday Edition’ at the Cabaret at Alleyway Theatre

The cast of “The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – Holiday Edition” at the Cabaret at Alleyway Theatre.

“The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – Holiday Edition” by David Cerda is running through December 28 in the Cabaret at the Alleyway Theatre.

The show is based on the long running sitcom which starred Bea Arthur, Betty White, and Rue McClanahan as seniors who share a home in Miami, Florida – becoming each other’s emotional support in their “golden” years of life. The show’s theme song was “Thank You For Being a Friend.”

The sitcom frequently used double entendres – usually flung at Rue McClanahan’s man crazy character, Blanche. The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – Holiday Edition goes way beyond double entendres. This show is downright raunchy – definitely for an adults only crowd. The audience enjoyed it, and there were laughs and shrieks throughout the evening.

In reference to the audience, I was expecting the usual folks who go to see the Summer Camp BUA drag productions. Instead, the opening night audience was 98% female baby boomers – many of whom were ardent Golden Girls fans. And they got the opportunity to test their Golden Girls know-how in the audience participation quiz show segments of the evening which were fun for everyone. Incidentally, wine and beer are sold right in the theatre and this also contributed to the party atmosphere of the production.

Director Todd Warfield has kept things big, bright, and bouncy and his costumes are creative and colorful and certainly in keeping with the characters. 

Guy Tomassi stars as Dorothy, the Bea Arthur character, and he has mastered her mannerisms and facial expressions. Mr. Tomassi speaks the dialogue in basso profundo tones that are even deeper than Ms. Arthur’s. It’s an amusing performance that doesn’t go over the top.

Joey Bucheker is delightful as Rose, the goofy, naive transplant from Minnesota who was played by Betty White on TV. Mr. Bucheker is known around town for another drag role, the vibrant Betsy Carmichael, and it’s to his credit that his Rose is nothing like his Betsy. He is a performer with range!

Blanche, the libidinous Golden Girl, is played with great verve by Michael Blasdell, and Jessica K. Rasp gets a lot of laughs as the sarcastic Sophia, Dorothy’s mom from Sicily. Rounding out the cast are Tim Goehrig and A. Peter Snodgrass both of whom play multiple roles. I liked them best as MC’s and quiz show hosts where they proved that they are comfortable with improv and audience interaction.

The production includes sitcom music and TV commercials. And, speaking of commercials, here’s a warning to any audience members sitting in the front row – you may find yourself in the splash zone!

The show is dedicated to long time Buffalo actor Timothy Patrick Finnegan who was cast as Sophia but passed away this fall. Mr. Finnegan appeared in many shows at the Alleyway and many BUA productions and the theatre community mourns and misses him.

“The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – Holiday Edition” is a wild and zany production with ribald humor. The audience enjoyed the holiday hijinks and gave the show an enthusiastic standing ovation.

The production runs 90 minutes which includes a 15 minute intermission.

‘The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – Holiday Edition is presented at the Cabaret at Alleyway Theatre until December 28, 2019. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Navigators’ at Alleyway Theatre

Seems like Alleyway is looking to whet the appetite of Western New York theatergoers with its offering of Navigators.  Opening a week before Curtain Up! the cast and crew get several performances in the meantime, giving the production ample opportunity to work out any kinks before the big night.

. . .a charming wave through the choppy waters of politics and family. . .

There’s not a lot to work out really and, with its approximately 90-minute runtime, it’s a perfect opportunity for Curtain Up! patrons to take in a compelling comical drama and step out onto Main Street for its free festivities relatively early into the night. 

But what am I saying — even without free festivities and whatnot, Navigators is an altogether satisfying theater experience.  Take, for example, that it’s set on a New England lake, and its props include a boathouse, equipped with its own dinghy sailing vessel.   And a dock. Oddly, or not so oddly, when the Navigators set sail on the dinghy, it never moves – the set does. Couple that with an easy-on-the-ears interlude music and a sleepy starry backdrop sky, well, you get the drift.  And even more pleasing is that the passengers do too, swaying as they do with the waves.  

But hold on.  There’s more to Navigators than inspired set design and agreeable sound.  Living on the lake is E.J., the son of a US Senator who’s recently died.  E.J., played by Chris J. Handley, has just delivered a eulogy for his mother the senator and has stolen back to his boathouse to write.  He’s quickly followed onto the boat by his sister, Maddy, played by Sandra Roberts. It comes apparent that E.J. had just delivered the eulogy for his mother’s funeral.  As estranged son, he’s just recently returned to see her before she died.

Maddy and E.J. are smart, educated, and it’s apparent they are very close.  Their dialogue is fast, witty and on-point, funny and, at times, poignant. They “get” one another as only close siblings would.  Handley and Roberts play their back and forth tight as a sheet, as two persons of like experiences, who almost know what the other will say before they say it.  

But time has changed their lives’ trajectories.  One loves politics and is political, like their mother.  The other despises all of it and the compromises their mother had made to their ideals in the name of politics.  The script is hot-peppered with both characters’ views, the points and counterpoints. Handley and Roberts deliver them with the precision and passion you’d expect of staunch adversaries, amusingly so.  They are both appealing in their roles, because their characters truly understand one another. And it is this understanding and love for one another that moves the story forward through Gordon Farrell’s rich and demanding script.  

And the plot – the reason E.J. and Maddy are on this lake – is that in the world of politics timing is everything.  A dead senator needs to be replaced. The family has name recognition. The case is made by another senator, Leo, played by Tom Owen.  Leo is E.J. and Maddy’s long-time uncle, as it were, and their mother’s confidante through many years in the senate together. He believes the family’s name recognition can keep the vacant senator’s seat in the party’s hands.  E.J.’s life experience and notoriety becomes the clear choice for that.  

The cast of three embodies their roles convincingly.  Handley plays the intelligent E.J. as he stumbles and sways between sober lucidity and intoxicated smartass.  As the knowing Maddy, Robert’s matches him with a just-right mix of being on board with him, while steering the ship to port.  Interestingly, while it seemed some hiccups came and went with the script, this cast recovered from them so smoothly as to make it unclear whether those moments were in fact gaffs or slight idiosyncrasies of the characters.   And regardless of that, all appeared to have genuine joy in bringing an excellent script to life.  

Family, politics, and sailing.  Sincere and funny dialogue on the ups and downs of all of it.   A trio of characters who have much to say and reveal on each of these matters, often comically so.  Add a plot and script by Playwright-in-Residence Farrell that winds its way in and out of each subject and how they play against one another.  Combine that with a delightful setting of a New England lake, artfully constructed, and Alleyway’s Navigators rides a charming wave through the choppy waters of politics and family, hitting on every level.    

Running Time: 90-minutes with one intermission.

Navigators runs until October 5, 2019 and is presented at Alleyway Theatre. For more information, click here.

Alleyway to Celebrate 40th Anniversary Year With Key Staff Changes

chris-j-handley-and-neal-radice-1.jpg

Chris J Handley and Neal Radice

Picture it, Alleyway Theatre in 2019, with some new staff members, and eight productions including a “The Golden Girls”  holiday shows where Blanche, Rose, Sophia, and Dorothy are played by men.

Welcome to Alleyway’s 40th season. It’s the oldest producing theatre company in Buffalo’s theatre district, and the 2019-20 season brings some significant changes.

Founder and executive and artistic director Neal Radice is retiring  from his positions (“not retiring from theatre,” he said at a recent press event).  This transition was thoughtful, strategic, and spanned almost three years: funding from the Cullen Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts helped create a succession plan.  Veteran actor Chris J Handley was selected by Alleyway’s Board of Directors to become the Associate Artistic Director, effective immediately, and step into the Executive Artistic Director role in May of 2020. “I’ve always dreamed about running a theatre,” Handley said. He’s also the director of Alleyway’s Theatre School of WNY which provides year-round classes for adults and youth who are serious about studying theatre.

Neal Radice announced that Broadway playwright Gordon Farrell will become Alleyway’s Playwright-in-Residence next season. He’ll develop his own new scripts for Alleyway’s main seasons as well as take on the writing challenge of developing particularly themed plays on commission. Farrell is already familiar to Alleyway audiences.  His play ‘Girls Who Walked on Glass’ is onstage now through June 22. The theatrical event is based on true stories that intertwine to expose a dangerous world which has ill-prepared three young women to meet challenges and temptations. After this run, it will be performed for general audience and potential backers in New York City. Farrell’s work in Buffalo goes back as far as 1991 with ‘Voice Of America.’ He and Radice collaborated to create their highly acclaimed Sherlock Holmes musical trilogy in the late 1990s. ‘Lifespan Of A Fact,’ Farrell’s latest play, debuted to critical acclaim this season on Broadway at Roundabout’s Studio 54, and earned Farrell a nomination for the John Gassner Award (Presented For An American Play, Preferably By A New Playwright) by the Outer Circle Critics.

Another Farrell play, ‘Navigators,’ the 40th season on September 12 on the main stage. Local playwright John “Circ” Kane’s ‘My Life in the Basement’ – a one-man comedy –  runs November 8-16 in the Alleyway Cabaret. ‘The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes’ follows December 5-28, while one of Buffalo’s oldest and beloved holiday traditions ‘A Christmas Carol’ plays on the main stage December 6-22. Scott McCrea’s ‘Factory for Murderers’ plays on the main stage from January 16-February 8, followed by the world premiere of Tatiana Gelfand and Paul Jensen’s Scotch and Madness’ February 20-March 14. The 29th annual ‘Buffalo Quickies’ runs from March 26 to April 18. The main stage season closes with Radice’s reflections on 40 years of Buffalo theatre with ‘Imagine the World Made Over…’ a revue of his full length musicals, April 23 to May 16.

Find details and subscription information at http://www.alleyway.com.

Theatre Review: ‘And Where Will You Put The Things You Save?” by Inclusive Theatre of WNY at Alleyway Theatre

We say it so much it’s become a regional cliché, but here it is one more time. Western New York is truly blessed to have such a robust and vibrant theatre community. With a couple dozen professional theatres, several community theatres, and college and high school programs that are launching the next generation of theatre professionals, the local theatre scene has something for everyone. The latest company on this august list, Inclusive Theater of WNY, is doing its part by creating a company that welcomes disabled and abled actors and behind the scenes personnel to participate.

ITWNY is off to a fine start with this three-hander. . .

After two years of writing groups, workshops, and informal work. ITWNY opened its first fully staged production, “And Where Will You Put the Things You Save?” at Alleyway Theatre. This is a regional premiere by local playwright Baroness von Smith, a 2008 Artie Award nominee.

ITWNY is off to a fine start with this three-hander, featuring John Profeta, Steve Brachmann, and Jessica Levesque, directed by Virginia Bannon. Brachmann is Nick, an attorney whose career was sidelined as the result of a motorcycle accident and now uses wheelchair. Profeta, fresh off his role in Subversive Theatre’s production of “Fahrenheit 451” is his fiancée, an academic and a self-proclaimed tree-hugger with a deep commitment to protecting the environment. Jessica Levesque is Ericka, Nick’s younger sister, an aspiring roller derby skater who is on the autism spectrum. The story emerges as all three characters find themselves challenged by life-changing crossroads. Nick cautions Alex about his environmental passion heading to the extreme. Ericka is eager to explore friendships and experiences beyond the confines of a group home. Alex struggles with his visions for an idyllic world unmarred by technology’s interventions. Their commonality: they just want to find happiness and acceptance in a less-than-tolerant society.

Bannon’s straight-forward direction makes perfect sense for this first-time cast. She coaxes a lovely debut performance from Jessica Levesque, whose character is bubbly one minute, and stressed and anxious the next as she experiences a bigger world with acquaintances who don’t understand autism. This was also Brachmann’s debut. His chemistry with his castmates took some time to be convincing while his posture and demeanor as a wheelchair bound man was elegant and real. Profeta was solid throughout, an anchor in the lives of two disparate siblings who are finding new ways to navigate through their worlds.

The company’s founder Aimee Levesque was aware of the script for a while, and was at first hesitant to plan it as the company’s first production. She felt that with two characters disclosing  their disabilities as defining elements of the story was too obvious. Together with her associate founder Marilyn Erentsen-Scott they determined that the subtle and not so subtle messages of von Smith’s intriguing story made a positive statement about the company’s mission to reimagine our society without the disabling barriers.

There were a few opening night glitches: a set piece that wasn’t supposed to break, a few stalled lines, some ambient music that was too loud and long. Overall, it was a great effort and a production that is worthy of a larger audience.

It’s important to remember that this is a first-time production for a fledgling company that was founded to give every and any person with theatrical interests a place to work hard and to shine. Local actors, directors, and other theatre professionals have lent their time and talent to help this group fulfill its mission. It’s laudable and important work. Not every show is Broadway bound, nor is every local production, actor, director, or stage crew expecting to be. But that’s what makes the rich tapestry of our theatre community so special. There’s a stage and an audience available, accessible, and welcoming for everyone, without the pretense of lofty expectations. Smaller, new companies need the same support and attention as their well-heeled peers. This production is worth seeing and supporting.

Running Time: 95 Minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“And Where Will You Put The Things You Save?” will run to October 28, at the Alleyway Theatre. For tickets, call the box office at 716-218-8129, and for more information on the production and the company, visit www.inclusivetheaterofwny.com.

Theatre Review: “Philosophus” at Alleyway Theatre

The cast of “Philiosohus” at Alleyway Theatre.

The enlightenment and spiritual awakening of mankind is largely due to the cultural impact of drama and theatre. Theatre is an art form that can transport the audience to new and exciting places, examine the inner workings of the psyche, grapple with the complexities of human existence, and delve into intricate, unexplored emotional terrain. “Philosophus,” a new play by Colin Speer Crowley currently playing at Buffalo’s Alleyway Theatre, does none of those things. And that’s totally OK! Because while it’s not terribly reverent and pretty rough around the edges, it also has moments of great wit and humor.

. . .an all-around funny show and fun time at the theatre.

“Philosophus” is a screwball comedy about the egregiously self-righteous philosopher Voltaire (Chris J. Handley) and his bizarre escapades while he’s on the run in Frankfurt from officers of Fredrick II’s court, the Hitler-like Baron von Freytag (James Cichocki) and Dorn (Andrew Zuccari), after stealing the King of Prussia’s secret manuscripts. Chaos ensues as Voltaire’s escapades soon include Frau Schmidt (Christopher Standart), a money-hungry German shrew; two slightly dim-witted, look-a-like servants (both played by Zuccari); and Mademoiselle Denis (Emily Yancey), Voltaire’s seductive sex-obsessed niece who fancies herself an ingénue.

Chris Handley’s pompous and self-important interpretation of Voltaire is without a doubt the strongest element of this show. Throughout the production Handley’s Voltaire hilariously switches between grand, pseudo-philosophical monologues to wry one-liners and slap-sticky embarrassing moments. Perhaps the funniest moment of the show is when Voltaire uses his wit and philosophical prowess to convince the dim-witted Dorn to exchange a faulty pistol for a working one as they’re about to duel to the death.

Handley and Zuccari have cultivated great Three Stooges-like chemistry as Voltaire and Collini, constantly breaking the fourth wall and cutting each other down, both physically and rhetorically.

Christopher Standart was a great casting choice as the cross-dressing Frau Schmidt. While his German accent could use some work (I always hesitate to critique an actor’s accent abilities, because I know how tough they are to get right), he more than made up for it with his comedic timing.

Zuccari, who doubles as both Collini and Dorn, did an outstanding job at developing two completely different characters and hilariously switching between them multiple times throughout the show. Both Dorn and Collini brought the laughs (though I thought his Collini was stronger), and he had great comedic chemistry with both Handley’s Voltaire and Cichocki’s Baron Von Freytag.

While “Philosophus” will definitely make you laugh throughout its two hour runtime, there are unfortunately also some moments where you’ll cringe. In particular, the character of Mademoiselle Denis is shockingly sexist, existing in the story as a little more than a sexual prop that doesn’t seem to serve a function other than to constantly reference her breasts. To be clear, this is no fault of Emily Yancey, who has great comedic moments and makes the best of a poorly-written character. It’s the fault of playwright Colin Crowley, who put little effort into his development of the play’s only TRULY female character (Frau Schmidt is played by a male); a character who would be commonplace in a play written 40 or 50 years ago, but whom is surprising—and sad– to see in a play written during the #metoo era.

“Philosophus” has its good and bad but is, for the most part, an all-around funny show and fun time at the theatre.

Running Time: 2 Hours with a 15-minute intermission.

Advisory: Adult humor and situations

“Philosophus” plays until October 6, 2018 and is presented at the Alleyway Theatre. For more information, click here.