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

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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.

Support Local Theatre By Supporting Our People in Need

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Support a worthy cause while you enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime performance.

On Friday, June 8, at 11pm, members of the national touring company of LOVE NEVER DIES will partner with Alleyway Theatre to present LATE NIGHT WITH THE CAST, a benefit concert to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and for the WNED/WBFO Artie Awards effort to benefit Erie County Medical Center’s HIV/AIDS and Immunodeficiency Services.

LATE NIGHT WITH THE CAST will feature members of the cast of the national touring company of LOVE NEVER DIES singing songs from musicals and performers that inspired them to become a performer.

“We’ve decided on tributes to the performances that have inspired us. So each of us is going to sing something from a show or by a particular performer that have shaped who each of us is as an artist,” said LOVE NEVER DIES cast member Adam Soniak.

Set to appear are Karen Mason (Broadway’s MAMMA MIA!, HAIRSPRAY, SUNSET BOULEVARD), Correy West (Broadway’s NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, SOUTH PACIFIC), Lucas John Thompson (Broadway’s CATS), Sean Thompson (Broadway’s SUNSET BOULEVARD), and more!

Selections will include music from SMASH, DREAMGIRLS, MAN OF LA MANCHA, THE LITTLE MERMAID, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, and NATASHA PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812.

Alleyway Theatre is thrilled to build on the success of April’s PHANTOM UNMASKED benefit.  “When cast members of LOVER NEVER DIES contacted Alleyway Theatre Associate Artistic Director Chris J Handley about doing another benefit, we responded with an immediate yes.  We’re looking forward to another very special performance and are proud to serve such worthy causes” said Joyce Stilson, Alleyway’s Director of Public Relations.

Alleyway Theatre (672 Main St, Buffalo) will open the doors to the Main Street Cabaret at 10:30pm and the performance will begin at 11pm. Seating is limited and your kind donation of $25 (or more) is appreciated. Visit www.alleyway.com for details and to make tour donation to reserve your seat.

ECMCʼs HIV/AIDS and Immunodeficiency services are the largest comprehensive care center of its kind in Western New York. The hospital’s immunodeficiency clinic is also a PCMH Level 3 Certified Clinic.  The Immunodeficiency Services group strives to meet the needs of people with HIV/AIDS with physicians, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, nurses, case managers, nutritional consultants, drug counselors, and mental health counselors on staff and also through partnerships with a myriad of community agencies.

In providing care, ECMC’s Immunodeficiency Services group aims to meet several important goals:

  • Improving quality of life for HIV-positive patients through early intervention and optimal care.
  • Providing HIV/AIDS clinical education and consultation to providers.
  • Offer advocacy and case management services for HIV/AIDS patients.
  • Establish HIV prevention as a top priority.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is one of the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. By drawing upon the talents, resources, and generosity of the American theatre community, since 1988 Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS has raised more than $300 million for essential services for people with AIDS and other critical illnesses across the United States.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is the major supporter of the social service programs at The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative and the Samuel J. Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts. Broadway Cares also awards annual grants to more than 450 AIDS and family service organizations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, providing lifesaving medication, healthy meals, counseling and emergency assistance.

For more information, please visit Broadway Cares online at broadwaycares.org, at facebook.com/BCEFA, at instagram.com/BCEFA, at twitter.com/BCEFA and at youtube.com/BCEFA.

Theatre Review: ‘Buffalo Quickies’ at Alleyway Theatre

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The cast of Kick Up Your Heals and Shout. Included in “Buffalo Quickies” at Alleyway Theatre.

It’s Alleyway Theatre’s spring rite of passage: the 27th annual “Buffalo Quickies” is replete with local talent, some Buffalo nostalgia, and a few things I just can’t figure out.

While some of the ‘quickies’ don’t always hit the highest playwriting mark, what is consistently impressive is watching the agility and versatility of the actors.

On opening night, director Joyce Stilson pointed out that of the eight playwrights represented in the line- up, seven are from Buffalo. This is significant: Buffalo’s cache as an arts and cultural beacon shines even brighter when local talent is recognized in meaningful ways. It’s a Buffalo gal’s work that leads off the night. Playwright Donna Hoke’s “Spirit of Buffalo” starts with the local soundtrack of the ‘70s, the “Talkin’ Proud” song,  which leads us to a cold ride on a snowy roadway. Andrew Zuccari is the mysterious Beau Fleuve (get it?) who raps on the window of Jacquie Cherry’s car as they wait for the road to clear. He’s a down home guy, and she’s a frustrated, sullen expat who finally remembers that a beef and weck and loganberry martini – served for a good Samaritan – can warm both heart and soul. Or as Beau Fleuve says, “We’re Buffalo. Crisis brings out the best in us.”

Zuccari gets into a summer groove for “Lawn Wars,” where he and neighbor Christopher Standart verbally mow each other down over the natural verses cultivated appearance of their adjoining properties. You have to love Zuccari’s tongue-twisting monologues and epitaphs in this world premiere as the two men tussle to find “turf détente.” Playwright  Matthew Boyle, like Hoke , is another local Quickie veteran.

Another world premiere “The Offer” has an out-of-this-world premise: ex-NASA scientist Grace (Cherry) is being offered an opportunity to test her research in a galaxy far, far away. Playwright Bella Poyton leaves you hanging, with plenty to think through with this one. What’s it like to live your dream if it means you’re never coming home?

“Notice” is a regional premiere by Peter Snoad that really highlights the versatility of actors Kate Olena and Bill Lovern. In just a few minutes, they change characters three times around a cryptic message on a t-shirt: Writers Notice. This show was a finalist in the Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition last year: it has the right combination of funny and ironic moments.

Standart, Cherry, Olena, and Lovern are back again when local legendary broadcaster/playwright and Quickie veteran Mike Randall premieres “Johnny Stormcatcher” about a fed-up TV meteorologist who has had it with his toupee, his news director, and years of bad management decisions.

Another world premiere “The Death of Melendez” puts Standart and Lovern in the bleachers of a baseball stadium. Lovern prides himself on keeping accurate gameday records, Standart just likes to yell at the pitcher he loves to hate.

“When the Skeletons In Our Closets Choke on Candy Corn” pairs Zuccari and Tom Dreitlein as Halloween party guests who escape to the backyard for a metaphysical moment.

The fast-paced evening ends with the 2017 Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition winner, “Kick Your Heels Up and Shout” by J. Snodgrass. Another local send up, this time focusing on a family (Cherry, Lovern, Olena) who take the Buffalo Bills’ desire to “squish the fish” very seriously.

While some of the ‘quickies’ don’t always hit the highest playwriting mark, what is consistently impressive is watching the agility and versatility of the actors. The same corps has a whirlwind of characters, costume changes, moods, and nuances throughout this 90-minute experience.  The real standout this year is Jacquie Cherry. In one night she morphs from snobbish expat to sullen teen to snubbed scientist with a latent hunger for discovery.

“Buffalo Quickies” is a local tradition that never disappoints. Alleyway Theatre is unique in this commitment to the one act genre, and for the theatre community, it’s one more reason to be talkin’ proud(ly). OK, had to do it. It’s been bugging me for almost 40 years!

Running Time: 90 minutes, with 10 minute intermission.

“Buffalo Quickies” runs until May 5, 2018 and is performed at Alleyway theatre. For more information, click here

Theatre Review: ‘Beginning Again’ at Alleyway Theatre

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The cast of “Beginning Again” at Alleyway Theatre.

Whether there are five, seven or — who knows — twelve and one-half stages of grief over loss would be a debate in which few of us are willing to take part.  After all, it’s not likely to be pretty, this talking of grief.  And if we’re willing to take a guess, we would guess that Roland Oliver is none too happy about exploring them either.  And who could blame him.  Really.

. . .the dialogue, the script throughout from start to end, and how well all of the actors exchange the demands of it that gives “Beginning Again” its strength.  The more charm the better.  

Nevertheless, he will.  And that’s because in “Beginning Again,” — winner of Alleyway Theater’s 2016 Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition – we are taken through three seasons (acts) of Roland’s progression of grief over the loss of his wife, jamming however many stages of grief we might dispense into it.  You might think: that’s a lot.  And you might be right.  

But that’s okay, because it is David Alan Brown’s script that is the leading light here, after all, it won the Alleyway prize competition which, by its very definition must be unique and not imitative of a typical TV or film script.  Mr. Brown won the prize with good reason.  He doesn’t seek to define the stages of grief, he rather seems to want to dissect and scatter them to dust.  

His script takes us through three seasons – winter, then autumn, then spring – making a single stop at each season and the progression of Roland Oliver’s trying to come to grips with the death of his wife.  Roland is a critic by trade of, well, various art forms, and unavoidably a critic of the grieving process and even life.  It has been his occupation.  He needs to define, understand all of it, and this is what drives the play forward.

The first act finds him on a train where he meets Anita Bryant (not the Florida Oranges Anita Bryant) but an Anita Bryant whose life experience includes falling down a well as a child.  Anita is a survivor and she seems to do so simply, with street-wise answers and anecdotes to Roland’s struggle.  There are no easy answers for Roland in this early stage, and he would not have them anyway.  So Anita’s gifts only provoke his underlying grief, which helps bring forward Roland’s angry rage and an emotional breakdown right there on the train.  But Roland goes up and down swinging, much to actor David Hayes’ credit.

In autumn, Roland is in woodsy rural Pennsylvania where he meets Gene, who is fishing along the road to his land.  After Roland has another emotional breakdown, Gene, a vaguely proclaimed wise old man, offers up Roland some down-home advice which Roland is typically skeptical about. But Gene’s skills are an even better match for Roland’s criticism.  Or maybe Roland has, in the time that has passed, become more open to healing.

In spring, Roland meets with his gifted son, Dante, at an art gallery.  It’s awkward.  They have yet to take the time to speak of their grief, but their memories of family’s shared history brings them closer to one another and to the understanding of their mournful never ending.  Through it all are raised more questions than answers as to grief and its stages, as light is shed on the subject of coping with a strobe effect more than a shining beacon.  But questions likely have no simple answer, and they may be fleeting, and it all may come down to how Roland and Dante look at it.   The prism they bring.

Make no mistake.  A synopsis of “Beginning Again” does not begin to describe Brown’s script, nor the play as a whole.  Together with Alleyway’s production, this script is about an everlasting grief, a momentary coping, a desire to move forward and move on with meaning and, obviously, a search for where to begin again.  Among these the script presses on the paradoxes of how we cope with emotional stress and the things we tell ourselves and one another.

All of this the script conveys with philosophical musings, intelligent ruminations, humorous wit and lyrical dialogue.  It is left to the actors to lend the charm.  They move through it wonderfully and convincingly covering, as it does, so much in so little time.  Anita, played by, Smirna Mercedes-Perez, brings a welcome lightness and humor, a sense of realism and contrast to the usually stoic Roland; and Tom Owen gives a wonderfully wise yet smart-alecky feel to Gene the fisherman.  But it’s the dialogue, the script throughout from start to end, and how well all of the actors exchange the demands of it that gives “Beginning Again” its strength.  The more charm the better.  

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes

“Beginning Again” runs until March 10, 2010 and is presented at Alleyway Theatre. For more information, click here.