The Treasurer is Rich With Emotion at JRT

Near the end of The Treasurer, on stage now at Jewish Repertory Theatre’s Maxine and Robert Seller Theatre in Getzville,  the titular character reminds the audience that people don’t determine the length of their lives. While that may be debatable (spoiler alert: there are some suicidal ideations in the story), people can and do determine how their lives will be lived.

For Ida Klein Armstrong, that means she will live a life of excesses that are beyond her meager means and it’s her three sons (products of her first marriage) who are keeping her in the manner she believes she deserves…in a combination of duty, guilt, and -perhaps – some residual love.

This is strong stuff in playwright Max Posner’s script. While there are a few (precious few) moments that may bring a smile, this is a piece that may ring too close to home for some.  Another spoiler: see it anyway. Let it gnaw your conscience and redirect your senses. Perhaps make you better at loving and compassion, even when hoisting your own baggage.

That being said, the cast for this production is remarkable. David Lundy is the son who bears the burden of his mother’s life and takes control of her finances.  He’s the lead storyteller and in this way, the show is his 90-minute non-stop monologue.  He’s expressive, he’s fierce, he’s prescient in describing his own eventual demise, and while some corner of his heart may hold some love for his mom, the reality of dealing with her life choices over time occupies more space there. The subtle moment when he tosses the obligatory “love you” goodbye to his mom – as she says “I love you” and repeatedly asks him to “add the I” – is followed by a string of “I” statements. Yes, this son chooses where to insert a pronoun.  Poignant script writing here and Lundy’s execution is marvelous.

Darleen Pickering Hummer is Ida the mom. Charming and loveable to store clerks and telemarketers (and the sons who still feel the wounds of her earlier abandonment),  she is also manipulative and demanding. And then dementia begins robbing her mind and judgment.   Pickering Hummert’s performance is exquisite in its inherent sadness and bewilderment as the life she had is leaving her. While she’s superbly acting this role, there’s that jolt of reality that reminds us that her situation – the loneliness, humiliation, dependence on her sons, the loss of her faculties – is all too real. Her gorgeously expressive face will linger in your thoughts.

John Kreuzer  and Alexandria Watts appear in a variety of supporting roles, as store clerks and siblings and a particular significant other, both flexing their versatility chops in all good ways.  As always, they are joys to watch on stage.

In one brief scene, the son and one of Watts’ characters meet on a plane and off-handedly discuss Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. In reflection, The Treasurer is a bit of a nod to this story, where the son is the reluctant caregiver to his mom and her delusions.

Set designer David Dwyer kept the stage pristine, as is JRT’s wont.  Single and strategically placed chairs and a table were all that was needed.  Tom Makar dropped in some well-timed ambient noises when Lundy described his character’s bike riding, and Brian Cavanagh’s lighting punctuated key moments.  Director Saul Elkin knit these bits together to be stark, strongly emotional, and the kind of theatre that is occupying your head hours after you leave.

The Treasurer runs 90 minutes long with no intermission until February 27.  Find information and ticketing at https://www.jccbuffalo.org/jrt/.

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.

BPO, ICTC, the Bard, and Mendelssohn…Oh My!

 Brendan Didio as Puck and Vincent O’Neill as Oberon.  Photo by Gene Witkowski.

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Irish Classical Theatre Company will offer another collaborative program January 17-19 when “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” pairs a beloved William Shakespeare comedy with music composed by Felix Mendelssohn.

It’s a double duet – two world-class arts organizations and two classic bodies of work – creating a dynamic performance in Kleinhans Music Hall. This is the fourth performance coupling for the BPO and ICTC.

“It is an honor for the BPO to welcome the audience of the ICTC into our house,” says BPO music director JoAnn Falletta. “The Buffalo Philharmonic reached out to the company several years ago to explore a partnership combining  Moliere’s The Bourgeois Gentleman with the music of Richard Strauss, and the result was so delightful, funny and felicitous that we realized we had to find other projects. Amadeus (with the music of Mozart) was also superb, and very different in character-probing, tragic and unforgettable.  The combination of two geniuses- Shakespeare and Mendelssohn in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a perfect marriage, and I think that it will be our best partnership.”

Fortunato Pezzimenti, ICTC’s associate director agrees: “It’s such a celebration for the theatre company to work with the orchestra. It’s wonderful for the company to perform with this magnificent orchestra behind them.”

Bringing two artistic organizations together takes some finessing, on stage and off. Pezzimenti said, “It’s not difficult but we have to be smart about it.” The actors will share the Kleinhans Music Hall stage with the orchestra, which is a completely different size and shape than the cozy  dimension of The Andrews Theatre,  ICTC’s Main Street home base. Pezzimenti said, “The stage is very, very wide and not very deep. There are limitations to the set design.”

Pezzimenti said the set (designed by David Dwyer) will be minimal and costumes designed by Lise Harty are “significant to create the beauty, wonder, and magic of the piece.”

Sharing the stage with the BPO will be: Vincent O’Neill  as Oberon/Theseus; (Falletta said it’s a “lovely detail” that ICTC Co-Founder and Artistic Director Vincent O’Neill played the starring role in the three previous productions, too);  Aleks Malejs aTitiana/Hippolyta; Brendan Didio a Philostarte/Puck; Chris Kelly as Egeus/Quince; David Wysocki  as Lysander;  Nick Stevens as Demetrius;  Kayla Storto Hermia;  Kit Kuebler as Helena;  Phil Farugia as Bottom;  Kevin Kennedy as Flute;  Dudney Joseph as Snout;  David Lundy as Starvling; and Gerry Maher  as Snug. Soprano Karen D’Angelo and Vocalis Chamber Choir alto Maria Parker will sing the fairy roles.

Pezzimenti said the actors are proud to be part of this collaboration. “It’s a tremendous honor to be cast in something like this,” he said. Actor David Lundy says the cast dynamic – a mix of seasoned stage actors and “some fresh young talent”  – with the BPO create a very special theatre experience. “It’s novel for experienced concert-goers and theater patrons alike” said Lundy. “They’re seeing one of Buffalo’s finest acting companies performing front of a world-class orchestra, with classical music composed directly for the play being shown. Both the audience and the performers are thrilled in a way that doesn’t happen for a typical play.”

Falletta agrees: “It is truly thrilling to come together with our actor ‘cousins’. Our art forms share so many similarities and values, and it is very inspiring to have the ICTC on the stage with us. We feel their energy and respond to it, and they tell us that having the music swirling around them is an amazing experience for them. It also is interesting for them to work in a house that seats 2400 people, and to project their artistry into a large space. We learn from the actors, and grow, and frankly have a spectacular time collaborating with these great artists. I am always astonished at how musical the members of the ICTC are – their flexibility, their open-mindedness, their enjoyment of music –  truly is an inspiration to us.”

There are only three performances – Friday and Saturday evenings, January 17 and 18 and a Sunday, January 19 matinee. Plan to arrive an hour earlier to attend the pre-concert talk: Ms Falletta and members of the cast will give you an insider’s look into the production. Tickets are available at http://www.bpo.org