The Onion Game at Irish Classical Theatre

 Stan Klimecko as Onion and Louie Visone as Ogie.  Photo is by Gene Witkowski. 

A World Premiere by an award winning playwright has settled in for a run at The Irish Classical Theatre Company. “The Onion Game,” which is billed as a hilarious black comedy, was written by Bryan Delaney who flew in from Ireland to attend the opening night performance.

“The Onion Game” centers around an extremely dysfunctional family – each member of which has their own passions and eccentricities. Actually, “dysfunctional” is putting it mildly.  Think “You Can’t Take It With You” gone horribly horribly wrong. 

At the risk of sounding old fashioned and plebeian, I prefer plays where there is at least one character who I can identify with or at least care about. In “The Onion Game” each character is wilder and stranger than the next. “The Onion Game” reminded me of John Guare’s “House of Blue Leaves” which also features a collection of off-center characters and also moves from dark humor to the macabre. Somehow, however, with Blue Leaves, the ending is strangely poignant and weirdly beautiful. There is nothing redeeming about the ending of “The Onion Game.” Act I is amusing in an audacious, “I can’t believe he said that” way, but Act II becomes just plain horrific.  Act II also felt over long. There are some surprising plot twists, but then the play continues for another grim 20 minutes or so. I found myself thinking, “Oh, destroy each other already and let’s get out of here.” It reminded me of a tedious production of Anthony and Cleopatra that I once saw where, by Act 5, I kept thinking, “Give her the asp!”

This was a solid production.  Greg Natale has the always difficult task at the Irish Classical Theatre of directing in the round and it can be frustrating for audience members to miss significant facial expressions and even dialogue because of this challenge. Some plays just don’t lend themselves to this theatrical set up as well as other pieces do. The one quibble I have with the direction is that Natale let some of the minor characters go way over the top with their performances so that, instead of human beings, we saw interpretations akin to Tim Conway’s sketch characters on the old Carol Burnett show. In the program notes, the playwright indicates that the style of the play is heightened realism but, with these characters, any small semblance of realism was lost. The actors who played the roles are usually terrific but here their performances, although funny, felt indulgent.  Mr. Natale did a wonderful job of directing the central actors playing the family, however, and these are very demanding and provocative roles.

Stan Klimecko, one of the best actors in Buffalo, turns in another masterful performance in the meaty and difficult role of the father. He is superb throughout the play, but I especially enjoyed his lighter moments when he pranced and capered around the stage – sometimes on tiptoes and other times in demi plie. 

Kelly Meg Brennan is also fine as his formidable, tough as nails wife and Louie Viscone gives an equally strong performance in the extremely distasteful role of their nasty and hedonistic son. 

Rounding out the unhappy family circle is Ava Schara as their seriously neglected young daughter — appropriately intense, off beat, and wan. She makes Wednesday from The Addams Family look normal!

Technically, the production is of consistently high quality with special kudos to sound designer Tom Maker and a filmmaker for the quirky music and videos played during the scene changes.

The production runs three hours with one 10 minute intermission.
“The Onion Game” runs until March 29, 2020. For more information, click here.

A Sure Sign of Spring: Shea’s Announces Next Season’s Schedule

Shea’s Buffalo Theatre is going back to its roots as a movie house with the M&T Bank 2020-21 Broadway Series. Six of the seven mainstage offerings either began their lives on the silver screen or have already been made into films. Venerable producing partner Albert Nocciolino joined Shea’s  President  Michael G. Murphy to announce next year’s season at a subscriber’s event held Tuesday night.

An exciting kick off to the season – and another economic boon for Buffalo – are two national tours are launching on Shea’s stage. This also means that Shea’s will host the tech and stage crews for extended stays, with an estimated $3 million in regional economic impact for the region, says Murphy, along with creating work for local theatre technicians.  This is made possible by a New York State program that incents Broadway productions to launch from an upstate – in our case a Western New York – theatre, an opportunity enjoyed by our city coffers for five years.

The first of these productions is “Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird,” starring Richard Thomas, August 15-22. This is Aaron Sorkin’s script which was produced this season at the Kavinoky Theatre. Thomas – long remembered for his TV character John Boy Walton – will star as Atticus Finch.

Next up and the second national launch is the stage version of the 1982 comedy “Tootsie,” October 3-10. It’s the same fun story: an out of work actor wins roles when he dresses in drag, with a score written by David Yazbeck who also the score for “The Band’s Visit” coming to Shea’s this April, along with “The Full Monty” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

The next movie on stage in “Pretty Woman The Musical,” where the hooker with a heart of gold wins over emotionally remote rich dude. All the scenes you loved in the 1990 movies are tied together with a score by Canadian rocker Bryan Adams and his longtime song writing partner Jim Vallance.

The 2019 Tony award winning revival of “Oklahoma” is on stage January 26-31. The New York Times called it the “the coolest production of the year is from 1943” because of its inventive restaging of an American classic and the fresh arrangements of the lovely Rodgers and Hammerstein score.

Another classic,  the Lincoln Center Theater Production of Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” follows March 23-28.

The season’s juke box musical is “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, The Life and Times of The Temptations,” dances on stage May 11 to 16.

Closing out the season is another hit from the snowy silvery screen, “Frozen,” June 16-27.

Two special engagements round out the season: “Hamilton” returns November 3-20. Season subscribers may opt to include this as part of their season; and “Dear Evan Hansen,” April 13-18.

Murphy also announced the new seasons for Shea’s other theatre properties.  For the third season, O’Connell & Company will be in residence at Shea’s Smith Theatre. This season begins with “Nunsensations A-Men,” January 8-17, followed by “SUDS: The Rocking ‘60s Musical Soap Opera,” March 5-14, and the return of “Betsy Carmichael’s BINGO PALACE, “ April 29-May 2. Also in residence at Shea’s Smith is Second Generation Theatre. This company’s season begins October 16 with the play “Constellations,”  until November 1, followed by Jason Robert Brown’s lush musical “Songs for a New World” February 5-21, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel adapted for stage “The Secret Garden,” May 21-June 6. 

At Shea’s 710 Theatre, Road Less Traveled Productions will stage “Slow Food, “a comedy, September 10-27. MusicalFare Theatre follows with the musical “In the Heights,”December 3-20. The theatre collaborative All for One Theatre Productions (MusicalFare Theatre, Road Less Traveled Productions, Irish Classical Theatre, Theatre of Youth) bring love and comedy to the stage with “Shakespeare in Love,”February 11-28. Irish Classical Theatre brings” Farinelli and the King,”a drama, to this stage April 8-18. Finally MusicalFare Theatre returns with the regional premiere of Kinky Boots, May 6-23.

Full descriptions and ticket information is online at www.sheas.org.

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Theatre Review: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore’ at Irish Classical Theatre

Ben Michael Moran as Grimaldi and Adriano Gatto as Lord Soranzo. Photos are by Gene Witkowski.

While most theatre companies choose to open their season with a grabby title or celebrated classic, Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre Company begins 2019-2020 with a lesser known, nearly 400-year-old show that’s rife with drama and salaciousness.  And while it’s not their best work to-date, it’s a bold choice to begin a new season with a play that’s virtually unknown to modern audiences that focuses on an incestuous relationship. 

“Tis’ Pity She’s a Whore,” a tragedy written by John Ford circa 1633 and directed at ICTC by Fortunato Pezzimenti, centers on the forbidden love between a brother and sister. Young Parman nobleman Giovanni (Jeremy Kreuzer) is desperately in love with his sister Annabella (Anna Krempholtz), and is overjoyed when she reciprocates his feelings. But they know that their incestuous passion must remain a secret, a secret they believe they can keep – until Annabella is pregnant. With suitors clambering for Annabella’s hand in marriage including Bergetto (Adam Yellen), Grimaldi (Ben Michael Moran), and Soranzo (Adriano Gatto), the solution seems obvious: She must marry one of them right away to save her honor and keep the secret. With multiple revenge schemes, jilted lovers, and manipulative servants, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore spares no character from heartbreak.

The production’s sparse set design (a single chair) leaves the burden to the acting company of carrying this antiquated story along, and several of these cast members do so fabulously. Per usual Adam Yellen, an ICTC staple, is hilariously fresh as Bergetto, bringing ample flair to the role of the goonish dim-witted nephew of Signor Dinado (Christian Brandjes). Everything from his flashy stage entrances to his over-the-top gestures exemplify why ICTC continues to cast him in their productions.

And speaking of Dinado, Christian Brandjes excels in both this role as well as the earnest and devout Friar Bonaventura. Brandjes’ performances in both characters are organic and natural, allowing the audience to fall right in sync with the production during the scenes in which he’s center-stage.

While their chemistry is sometimes clunky, Krempholtz and Kreuzer share many moments of believable tenderness and intimacy, a credit to the skilled directing hand of Fortunato Pezzimenti. Krempholtz in particular radiates and grabs the audience’s attention, particularly in the first act’s scenes of romance.

ICTC’s production of “Tis’ Pity She’s A Whore” is a decent rendition of a play that’s likely lesser-known for a reason. While the action and violence of the later acts does perk up the audience a bit, large swaths of the show just sort of trudge along, a reality that’s less a fault of the production and more the fault of  John Ford. ICTC is one of Buffalo’s finest arts institutions, and their 19/20 season contains titles that will surely pack the house, but this choice for season opener is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes with one 10-minute intermission.

“Tis’ Pity She’s A Whore” is playing at ICTC’s Andrew Theatre until October 13th; for tickets and more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Entertaining Mr. Sloane’ at Irish Classical Theatre

Kelli Bocock-Natale as Kath, Stan Klimecko as Ed and Anthony J. Grande as Mr. Sloane. Photo is by Gene Witkowski.

This is one dysfunctional family with a weird twist on sibling rivalry.

Brother and sister are love-starved and have a history of being attracted to the same men. DaDa has diminished vision and keen insights…when they’re to be believed. And the opportunist  boarder killed a man. And they live happily ever after?

Playwright Joe Orton occupies some weird space with ‘Entertaining Mr. Sloane,’ presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company, now to June 30.

The plot is pretty twisted: Mr. Sloane is the young boarder in the home Kath (played by Kelli Bocock-Natale) shares with her DaDa Kemp (Gerry Maher).  The relationship quickly escalates to an intimate one as Mr. Sloane (Anthony J. Grande) ingratiates himself to Kath…or gloms on to her neediness…or acquiesces to her advances. Bocock-Natale is sweetly adorable in this sad role: one minute she’s coy and flirtatious, then she’s aggressive in seeking Mr. Sloane’s, ahem, attentions, and then she’s in a flight of fancy where  she’s his doting mother who also desires him. Jocasta, your complex is calling.

Enter Ed, Kath’s brother. He’s the businessman of the family, the fixer, the problem solver. Alas, he’s also in a pretty tightly closed closet and only seems to desire men when Kath is after them, too.

And then there’s the enigma Mr. Sloane. Is he really who he says he is, someone in need of lodging?  Or is he a grifter, a tease, a miscreant in search of another bad deed?

After two and half hours, I just didn’t get it.

I did love the casting, and the set…the two best parts of every ICTC show. Bocock-Natale celebrates the innocent/nefarious moods of Kath, with a lilt in her voice and a flash in her eyes. You believe that she believes she is the caring mum Mr. Sloane misses and the femme fatale he desires. Stan Klimecko as Ed  is the model of a slightly slimy stalker: he controls his family’s household without being in it and feels entitled to do so. Maher’s Dada is dotty enough and sharp, too: he’s the one – the only one – suspecting that Mr. Sloane is not who he says he is. Grande’s Mr. Sloane is one dimensional. Somehow director Greg Natale didn’t bring out any real fire or passion from Grande’s performance. Yes, Mr. S looked appropriately shocked when Kath put the moves on him, and he played up to Ed’s attentions, too, but there was something “phoned in” about his performance that didn’t help a sagging, dragging plot come to life.

Natale did, however, take full advantage of ICTC’s stage and Bocock-Natale’s range of expressions and nuances. The Natale family is very functional and beloved in this theater community for good reason. Vivian DelBello’s costumes were fine: Kath slipped from motherly muumuu to satin lingerie to a girlish floral frock that fit Kath’s fluctuating self-perceptions. Amanda Lytle Sharpe kept everyone’s accent consistent and level. David Dwyer’s set had the right look and feel  for a fine home that maybe isn’t aging as graciously as it should.

The ending left me wondering, too. The whole script was at a weak simmer below the surface. Nothing really bubbled up to be exciting or provocative (hey, even in the early 1960s, May-December romances happen, people were cruel and siblings rivaled), and the ending was pretty flat. I didn’t want “more” of this story after two and half hours, I did want it to end with more gumption. Regrettably, ‘Entertaining Mr. Sloane’ didn’t entertain me.

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 minutes with one-10 minute intermission.

‘Entertaining Mr. Sloane’ is onstage until June 30, 2019 and is presented at Irish Classical Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Hamlet’ at Irish Classical Theatre

The cast of ‘Hamlet’ at Irish Classical Theatre. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

As the audience around me affirmed, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet overflows with quotes we use every day. Maybe that’s why Irish Classical has picked this piece to foray into Shakespeare, and it certainly seems like they should stick to it. Kate LoConti Alcocer, recently named the successor to ICTC Founding Member and current Artistic Director Vincent O’Neill, helms this streamlined production running through May 19th. The adaptation is expertly done, clear and concise in its presentation, and entertaining to the last. If you’re one of 4 people who hasn’t seen, read, heard of, accidentally come up with the plot of, haven’t seen The Lion King, or otherwise don’t know the plot of Hamlet, “spoilers” ahead.

. . .[a] well oiled machine. . .

As the damaged prince Hamlet, Anthony Alcocer begins in earnest mourning. He has just lost his father, after all. As the play progresses, Hamlet’s madness takes him over, making it hard to tell when he’s in his right mind. Alcocer finds the honesty in Hamlet, equal parts vengeful and calculated. He’s best in the final scene, as he shows range of honest emotion most actors would be jealous of. It’s a breakthrough performance for him.

The entire rest of the cast deserves to be individually commended. As Claudius, the usurper of the late Hamlet’s throne, Matt Witten is terrific. He carries himself with regal authority, and yet allows us a window into a guilty conscience rather effectively. His counterpart is Kristen Tripp Kelley, as Queen Gertrude. She’s commanded the ICTC stage before, but this is a role she’s almost born to play. She brings strength to Gertrude, a quiet dignity. She’s written to command and obey her second husband, but LoConti Alcocer and Tripp Kelley have obviously coordinated to strengthen her resolve. It’s a 2019 take without being in your face about it. Another pillar of female Shakespearean resolve comes in the form of Anna Krempholtz as Hamlet’s one-time lover Ophelia. The language comes easily to Krempholtz, and so it lets her work wonders in little stage time. It makes for an even more heartbreaking “get thee to a nunnery” scene. Expect continued big things from Krempholtz in the future. As Horatio, Adam Yellen’s performance might just steal the show. There aren’t many people Hamlet can count on, and so Yellen’s performance is expertly crafted; he’s the model of a true friend, protecting his dear Hamlet to the end. As Hamlet’s light dims, and “all the rest is silence,” we see Horatio clutching his lifeless friend. We believe Yellen’s Horatio would drink the poisoned cup.

In supporting roles, Chris Kelly is a simple and elegant Pelonius. He’s another that very easily functions with the heightened language. He also serves as the Gravedigger, a rather hilarious modern take. Ever the face of versatility, Kelly is up to the task. Jake Hayes and Peter S. Raimondo show a similar versatility; they play six characters among themselves, most notably Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, respectively.  Rolando Martin Gomez is a stoic and troubled Ghost, with a very corporeal feel. It’s an interesting take by LoConti Alcocer, and it certainly adds to the hurt Alcocer’s Hamlet must feel. Finally, Patrick Cameron is well suited for his role as Laertes, a man who is always sure of what he wants and with an excellent sense of right and wrong.

The entire artistic team on this production is to be commended for aiding this well-oiled machine, but Costume and Set Designer Jessica Wegrzyn’s work stands out, especially when it comes to costumes. I’m a bit of a Shakespeare enthusiast, but it appears so is LoConti Alcocer. It’s a good thing, too, because what says “classical” better than the Bard?

Run time 2:45 with a 10 minute intermission.   

“Hamlet” runs until May 19, 2019 and is presented at Irish Classical Theatre. For more information, click here.

First Look: ‘Frost/Nixon’ at Irish Classical Theatre

His party was trying to re-elect him as President. Then there was a break in. A secret informant. Lies. The power of the press. A landmark resignation.

A work of fine fiction? No. Welcome to the United States of America, circa 1972-74, when the Committee to Re-elect the President orchestrated the break in of the Democratic National Committee office and kicked off the Watergate scandal. Two Washington Post reporters broke the news to an incredulous country still healing over its involvement in the Vietnam war. President Richard M. Nixon declared that he wasn’t at fault, yet he resigned and withdrew from public life for a couple years. It took a British talk show host (and a checkbook) to put him in front of the TV cameras again to clear the air. Or did he?

This is the story behind Frost/Nixon, presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company on stage at The Andrews Theatre March 1 to 24.

It’s a production that was a couple years in the making. “I proposed this to ICTC two years ago,” says director Brian Cavanagh. “It’s very relevant to the world we live in today.”

The story is based on the series of interviews that David Frost did with former U.S. President Richard Nixon three years after President Nixon resigned and – not ironically – in advance of the release of Nixon’s autobiography. Playwright Peter Morgan did significant research on these four  interviews that were aired in syndication on TV and also on radio, and while he took some liberties to condense four hours of programming into a two-hour play, Cavanagh says “This history behind the news of it is still there. It’s a play, it’s not a documentary, and the author is making a statement.”

Authenticity is important. Cavanagh says, “A good portion of the audience will have lived through these years, including the actor playing Nixon. There’s a whole new audience that doesn’t know a lot about Nixon or Watergate, but what is happening in our country now is a mirror.”

The need for authenticity transcends the script, too: “It’s all the in the casting, “ Cavanagh says. “Nixon – we know his face immediately. I felt I needed to find someone who could portray Nixon and give him his due. And Frost has a quirky accent.”

To fill these important roles, Cavanagh cast Jack Hunter as Nixon and Adriano Gatto as Frost. “They are both excited to play these roles. They have the talent, looks, and attitude.” Cavanagh and his cast watched the actual interviews so – particularly – the leads could see the posture and gestures of the men they’re portraying. He also made plenty of reading recommendations about the final days of Nixon’s presidency and the Watergate scandal in general. Re-reading history and seeing the men in the interview element are fine points that will help the leads get closer to their portrayals. “We’ve been sharing a lot of information about these men, Cavanagh says.

Frost hired a team of experts to help him prepare to interview a fallen American president. Similarly, Cavanagh cast a stellar supporting cast. In the role of Lord John Birt, the BBC manager and the producer of actual interviews, Cavanagh cast David Lundy. Birt is not well-known to the American public, but he was a high-profile British broadcaster who had a background in engineering. Lundy will bring the methodical, organized temperament of an engineer to his portrayal. He says these subtle nuances are important when portraying a historical figure. Lundy says, “The folks who see the play won’t say ‘hey I bet that guy is an engineer!’, but they will see something different from what another actor who pays no attention to that does.”

Peter Palmisano was cast as Nixon’s former chief of staff Jack Brennon who, with others on Team Nixon, saw the interview as an opportunity to rebuild his statesman image with the American public. Palmisano was drawn to the role because he remembers this era in American political history so well.  Part of his preparation will include learning more about Brennon’s appearance and patterns of speech. While he’s careful not to impersonate the man, this baseline knowledge helps ground his performance. “I find it an important challenge to portray these real people as just that: real.” The audience takeaway, though, is in the script. He says, “For me the creativity in this ‘art’ comes from the creation of a character from the words in the script. You take what the playwright gives you and goes from there. In a well written play, everything you need is in the words.”

Rounding out the cast are Adam Yellen as Jim Reston, Frost’s Watergate advisor, Matt Witten as news producer Bob Zelnick, Renee Landrigan as British socialite Caroline Cushing, Ray Voucher as publicist Swifty Lazar, and Jamie O’Neill as the technician.

Frost/Nixon runs from March 1-24. Visit www.irishclassical.com for tickets and details.

 

Theatre Review: ‘Sense & Sensibility’ at Irish Classical Theatre

Kristen Tripp Kelley as Elinor Dashwood, Renee Landrigan as Marianne Dashwood and Ben Michael Moran as Edward Ferrars. Photo is by Gene Witkowski

Gossipy, back-biting, smugly superior…yup, sounds like life in the British countryside, late 18th century style. This was the proverbial fodder for Jane Austen’s mill.  Kind hearted sisters stripped of their place in society, weak-willed men who don’t deserve them, and lots of smart, witty repartee make Austen’s novels a divine read and a delight on screen. Playwright Kate Hamill took the best of what we love about Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” and Irish Classical Theatre Company put it on stage in its WNY premiere.

Classic literature, dynamic cast, terrific staging, perfect costumes make this show shine.

Not a Jane-ite you say, gentle reader?  Pray, do see this inventive, feisty, fun romp of a novel-on-stage anyway, and with haste. Director Chris Kelly and this rambunctious ensemble create stage magic with elegantly simple set pieces, handmade sound effects, and deliciously delivered dialogue.

The opening scene is reminiscent of the ‘Tower of Babel’ opening of “Godspell” and ‘The Telephone Hour’ from “Bye Bye Birdie,” but instead of dishing about Hugo and Kim, we’re introduced to the Dashwood sisters and the fate they’ll suffer because of their father’s death and their half-sister-in-law’s machinations. Hang on to your reticule, things are about to start spinning. Literally. The white-painted set pieces are on wheels and besides delivering Miss Austen’s good words, the actors are constantly moving, circling, scooting about on either tables, chairs, benches or mobilizing them. Then there are gilt frames that magically appear at propitious times, sometimes as cottage windows or carriage windows or other portals of adventure. And don’t be confused when actors flip into multiple roles which include prancing horses and rambunctious dogs. Anthony Alcocer’s one sleeve on/one sleeve off over the shoulder dual role is particularly charming.

The cast is clearly enjoying this romp and roll, too. Kristen Tripp Kelly and Renee Landrigan embrace their roles as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, the sense and sensibility of the title respectively.  They are everything a Dashwood daughter should be: Elinor is the pragmatic one who delivers the best Jane line of the novel: “I am calm. I am my own mistress.” Landrigan is the perfect Marianne, collapsing for wont of honor and true love in one scene, and playing a mean air pianoforte in several other scenes. Listen to the music and watch her fingers: she’s really playing along with the music. Impressive.

While the rest of the cast don multiple roles, they are the constants. At time their mom is Jennifer Stafford and younger sister Margaret is winsomely played by Brittany Bassett in her ICTC debut. Kate LoConti Alcocer is despicable as Fanny Ferrars Dashwood. Josephine Hogan embraces her role as the supportive Mrs. Jennings. The menfolk of the ensemble have some of the best moments. David Lundy’s main role is John Middleton, and yes, that’s him again donning a lace shawl in other moments. Ben Michael Moran plays it all from Edward Ferrars to one proud stallion and frisky pup. Brendan Didio is John Willoughby, another ICTC debut.

When they aren’t rolling chairs and tables across stage, the troupe is the soundtrack, too. From perfectly choreographed finger snaps, thigh slaps, and palm rubbing form thunderstorms. A burst of pop tune sets a new scene, repetitive words – like chants – create the metaphoric inner turmoil. Director Kelly wrung every bit of energy from this cast for sure.

The pace on stage was constant motion, fresh and bright. If the first act dragged a bit, blame dear Miss Austen’s original script for wanting to pack in every detail where a modern author would have settled for more nuance.

“Sense and Sensibility” takes the chill off a nasty winter night. Classic literature, dynamic cast, terrific staging, perfect costumes make this show shine.

Running Time: 2 hours with a 10 minute intermission.

“Sense and Sensibility” is onstage until February 10. For more information, click here.

First Look: ‘Sense & Sensibility’ at Irish Classical Theatre

The cast of “Sense & Sensibility” at Irish Classical Theatre.

There seems to be a line drawn in the sand when it comes to the work of Jane Austen. Either you love her work, and want to be engulfed in her stories, or you want to run away screaming as fast as you can. Luckily, when Irish Classical Theatre opens their first show of 2019 “Sense & Sensibility”, you most likely will not run away screaming, you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

“Sense and Sensibility” tells the story of the Dashwood sisters, who have lost their father, and along with his death, they have also lost their wealth, social status, and prospects at successful marriage.

“I have been familiar with the story for a long time” says Chris Kelly, who will be directing this production. “In the 90’s I had fallen in love with the movie, starring Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant, and for years I wondered why Irish Classical had never done a Jane Austen play before.”

Like many theatre companies, the reliance on keeping an audience is a main priority, and picking a show that might not appeal to the masses can be a huge risk. “ I read this adaptation of the story by Kate Hamlin and then I saw it in New York, and I knew that I had to direct this play,” says Kelly, “We have been talking about this production for over a year.”

Kelly mentions that audience members around him in New York were a little apprehensive about the show, “I remember sitting in the theatre waiting for the show to start, and people around me were murmuring about how they really didn’t want to be there. It sounded like that had been dragged to the show,” Kelly laughs.

The audience will be in for a treat. “The actors play numerous characters in the show, and the set pieces are spread around the stage, all placed on wheels, so the show literally moves,” laughs Kelly. “The scenes move much quicker than you would think. The show is fun and does a wonderful job maintaining the heart of the story.

This show is a great piece of physical theatre as well. There is truly something for everyone in this production.

For those of you who still on the fence, you can rest easy knowing that this production will be anything but dry. “This adaptation hits all of the beats from Austin’s novel, but tells the story in a fresh and fun way,” says Kelly.

“Sense & Sensibility” opens on January 18 and runs through February 10, 2019 and is presented at Irish Classical Theatre. For more information, click here.

First Look: ‘Sive’ at Irish Classical Theatre

Kiana Duggan-Haas

Actor Kiana Duggan-Haas has one thing in common with the character she is preparing to portray: both girls are teens with dreams.

“Sive”is the title character in the Irish Classical Theatre Company production that will open Friday, November 2.

Duggan-Haas, the actor is a senior at Amherst Central High School and is thrilled to be part of this compelling drama. Having the title role, she says, “is not as glamorous as it sounds. I’m not the actor on stage the most, but when I’m not there, the other actors are talking about my character.”

Duggan-Haas has been involved in local theatre for 10 years, beginning in musical theatre camp, and continuing with roles in middle school and high school productions. She also performed in a Theatre of Youth production of “Madeleine’s Christmas” a few seasons ago.

“Sive” is her first paid stage role. “It’s truly incredible for me,” she says. “I’m the least experienced and trained performer in the room.” She’s surrounded by plenty of actor-educators who don’t shy away from sharing teachable moments. “They (the cast members) know I’m a senior in high school, and that means having a lot on my plate. They’re very encouraging. It’s a great opportunity for me to learn from this cast. They’re all incredible,” she says.

Duggan-Haas landed the role because director Vincent O’Neill says “She brought an innocence and freshness to the role which was not always present in the work of the more experienced actresses who auditioned. Since the play revolves around how young the girl is who is forced to marry an old man, the youthfulness of the actress was crucial in the final choice.”

Portraying Sive is an interesting learning experience for Duggan-Haas: she says her character has struggles with her identity (Sive’s mother was unmarried and died while giving birth to her), and with finding her place in an extended family that would prefer her to take a different life path. Kiana says Sive “fights back” when her aunt tries to marry her off to an older, wealthy farmer. Duggan-Haas says Sive is “fragile, with self-respect.” Mastering the Irish accent – with the intricacies of the County Kerry dialect – is something she is still learning, and she’s grateful for O’Neill’s patient direction and modifications. She says, “It takes time to get this into my system.”

In addition established ICTC actors,  among them Josephine Hogan and David Lundy, there are two recent Niagara University alumni in the cast, also making their ICTC debut in this production, who with Duggan-Haas are part of the next generation  for regional actors. O’Neill says, “It is reassuring  to see a whole new generation of young actors who are ready to step in and maintain the high standards of performance in WNY theatres.”

Encouraging her peers to attend and participate in local theatre has Duggan-Haas’s interest, too. “I see as much local theatre as I can,” she says. “I’m often the youngest person in the room. A lot of kids my age don’t go to theatre if they haven’t heard of the theatre or know the show. Social media and internet marketing is the way to draw in younger audiences.”

For Duggan-Haas, her next theatre season will be in college, perhaps at Niagara University or Ithaca College or beyond. “I love Buffalo theatre dearly,” she says, “but I feel college should take me some place away for the next four years.”

Just come back, Kiana. Your local theatre community is waiting for you.

“Sive” opens at Irish Classical Theatre November 2 and runs to November 25. Find details and tickets here.

Theatre Review: ‘Golden Boy’ at Irish Classical Theatre

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Anthony Alcocer and Cassie Cameron in “Golden Boy” at Irish Classical Theatre. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

The Curtain Up production at the Irish Classical Theatre is “Golden Boy,” an American drama written by Clifford Odets in 1937. Odets was a member of the Group Theatre, a company that was dedicated to realistic theatrical presentations of socially relevant plays. By the late 1930’s, however, the Group had fallen on hard times financially and Odets wrote “Golden Boy,” not as a political statement, but as a means to finance the company. Odets succeeded, and “Golden Boy” was the Group’s biggest financial hit. It has continued to score well over the years with a film version  starring William Holden, several Broadway revivals, and a musical starring Sammy Davis Jr. Interestingly, the musical added a controversial social justice issue — an interracial romance, making the the musical version of “Golden Boy” more of a typical Group play.

. . .a solid production of a classic American work. . .

“Golden Boy” is the story of a young man who has to choose between his art and commercial success. Should he dedicate his life to playing the violin or should he give prize fighting, and all its attendant creature comforts, his all?  

Anthony Alcocer is brash and dynamic as Joe Bonaparte, the prize fighter, and Cassie Cameron is sweet and lovely as his romantic interest, Lorna Moon.  One wishes, however, that Ms. Cameron was a bit less of a sympathetic waif and more of a hard-edged tart who starts off seducing Joe but eventually softens. Likewise, although Mr. Alcocer’s performance certainly holds our attention, the line between the idealistic boy at the beginning of the play and the hard-bitten fighter who he becomes is a little blurred — this Joe is primarily a breathless ball of energy from start to finish.

Arin Lee Dandes is delightfully amusing as Joe’s sister, and Rolando Martin Gomez is wonderful as Joe’s father, giving a dignified and heartfelt performance. He’s a standout! Eric Rawski is marvelously creepy, but never over the top, as Joe’s “owner.”

The most interesting work of the evening is by David Lundy who plays Joe’s coach. Mr. Lundy gives a nuanced performance. He’s resisted the temptation to become a stereotype and instead offers a totally realistic, three dimensional portrait. This is the approach that the Group Theatre advocated. Less is more in an Odets play, and Mr. Lundy hits the mark!

Rounding out the large and strong cast are Steve Jakiel as the father’s philosophical friend, Adam Yellen as Joe’s economically fixated brother-the-law, David Autovino as Joe’s hard-working and down to earth brother, Christian Brandjes as Tom who is a powerhouse of a manager, Jeffrey Coyle as the manager’s quirky sidekick, and, in smaller roles, Gabriel Robere, David C. Mitchell, and Gerry Maher.

Direction by Fortunato Pezzimenti is a little heavy-handed which slows down the proceedings. There is a tendency to play the scenes melodramatically, instead of naturalistically, which was the playwright’s intent. The energy level is good throughout the production, however, and there’s a scene in Act 2 with Tom, Lorna, Eddie, and Joe that really sizzles.

There is some exceptional music design by Tom Makar including wailing horns and a haunting carousel. Background music volume needs be adjusted, occasionally, because it was hard to hear the actors.

This is a solid production of a classic American work that hasn’t been performed in Western New York for many years. It’s a treat to see this respectful production of a Clifford Odets play.

Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with two 10 minute intermissions.

“Golden Boy” runs until October 7, 2018 and is presented at Irish Classical Theatre. For more information, click here.