Theatre Review: ‘A Very Trumpy Christmas Carol’ at Main Street Cabaret

So you’ve heard the bell ring when Clarence got his wings.  You wiped a tear during Linus’ telling of the Christmas story, felt restored when Tiny Tim says “God Bless Us, everyone,” and laughed with the Little Sisters of Hoboken. You’ve jingled, and twinkled, and decked the halls. There’s a new Christmas tradition in town at Alleyway Theatre’s Main Street Cabaret.  When all the other harbingers of Christmas yet to come have been heralded, it’s time for some political campiness with “A Very, Very Trumpy Christmas.”

This satirical send up of “A Christmas Carol” (ironically playing on the other side of the theatre) has President Ebensneezer J. Trumpy living the hell-dream of three ghostly visits while he slumbers in his flag blanky.  Visions of Hellary Clinton, Iwana Trumpy, Steve Banarama, Steve Acosted, and Mike Dence dance in his head to remind him of the true meaning of Christmas, Washington, DC style.

Redactor/director Todd Warfield took the best of the worst headlines and incorporated them into a funny, 45-minute frolic with plenty of tweety tweets and cries of fake news.  With four of the region’s finest and most versatile actors on stage, we watch the leader of the free world see/not see what the holidays mean/should mean. The bits fly fast and furious and I’m guessing that some of the funniest moments are unscripted and spontaneous based on the day’s real/fake news.

As always with a strong ensemble, it’s what the actors bring to the stage that makes the material shine. Guy Tomassi has every nuance of the “tangerine tyrant” down pat. The too long red tie, the perpetually pinched look on the peachy countenance, the rat’s nest coiffure, rapid fire speech, and the wild gestures to match are all on point. Stephanie Bax flips between Sarah Suckabe e-Sanders, Hellary Clinton, and Iwana Trumpy with deft costume and wig changes punctuated by her complete character overhauls. Her comedic chops are well exercised here. Timothy Patrick Finnegan makes the bold move from Rachel Maddog to Steve Banarama to Flimsy Graham, where his voice has the perfect drawl and with deadpan delivery. A. Peter Snodgrass’ Mike Dence is a hoot, and he’s equally smooth as CNN reporter Mike Acosted and the au current Michael Hohen. Director Warfield does some fine things with video (real and re-imagined) that give the script its context and the stark stage its setting.

Yes, laughing at the highest office in our country isn’t for everyone.  (Hey, it’s a democracy here. Freedom of expression still wins). Keeping it light and laughable still can keep the big picture in focus  And sometimes this is just what you need and expect from a night out in the theatre.

Running Time: 45 minutes with no intermission

“A Very, Very Trumpy Christmas Carol” is on stage at the Alleyway Theatre’s Main Street Cabaret to December 23, 2018. For more information, click here.

Comedy Review: ‘Weekend Laughs’ at Main Street Cabaret

Late Friday night, somewhere between, say, 11:15 and midnight, the Metro Rail rolled and clanged down Main Street in front of the Alleyway Theatre, and someone inside the theater’s Main Street Cabaret yelled “Look out, don’t hit that train!”  

It didn’t make the late news, but it made a lot of people crack up.  

. . .the comedy is overall engaging, laugh out loud and snort-through-your-nostrils funny stuff.

Let me explain.  This month, Alleyway Theater’s Main Street Cabaret is the setting for a night of comedy hosted by local stand-up comedian, Billy Whelan.  On the face of it, “Weekend Laughs” as it’s billed, looks to bring pure comedy to the Theater District.  Because who couldn’t use a good laugh during the month of March in Western New York.

There’s a slight disconnect here.  The venue, being at least temporarily billed as Main Street Comedy Cabaret and at the same time a late night comedy club doesn’t seem to fit.  If you’re expecting cabaret and its trappings of tables and cocktails and gaudy vaudevillian humor — this isn’t it.  If you’re expecting a typical comedy club atmosphere, it does not exactly deliver on that, either.  But the idea and the endeavor is,  transformative.  And if you’re in Western New York and not accustomed or open to transformation in progress, then perhaps you’re visiting from out of town.   

Whalen, a local stand-up comedian who’s done some stints at comedy clubs outside Western New York, starts off the show with some off with his style of stand-up, kind of laid back and matter-of-fact with some profanity thrown in.  But this is late night comedy, so if you’re thinking of bringing the kids, you’re likely visiting from out of town, and have no place to stay.  Whalen seems at home with his style and delivery.

Next up, Comic Sans, a group of four performers (three men and a lady) practice a method of short-form improvisational comedy, that is, often asking for and taking their subject matter from the audience, and playing out brief skits based on the situations presented.  They’re engaging and enthusiastic, and the audience responded in kind.  Think a Whose Line is it Anyway style of Improv.  

And the local duo, Babushka (Todd Benjin and Don Gervasi)  bring their exceptional brand of long-form comedy improvisation.  Here Benjin and Gervasi, both professional actors, grab a slice-of-life situation from the audience and make it one continuous improv, taking on multiple characters while playing it out.  A sort of narrative on steroids, held together by a single slice-of-life thread, weaving and fraying off into the funny and even absurdly funny.  These guys are good.

The atmosphere is loose, the interactions with the audience frequent, engaging and, at times, enthusiastically received.  If you’re the type who wants to have a say in what the performers are doing, the opportunities are many.  The “set” was a stage with a brick back wall and two boxes.  The lighting was, well, powered by electricity.  

Regardless, the comedy is overall engaging, laugh out loud and snort-through-your-nostrils funny stuff.   You could call this theater in the raw.  Here, the details don’t matter, the narratives have no script, the players work their craft, act out what the moment brings, and the audience is engaged.   Time passing tells where it all goes, how it all plays out, and whether weekly comedy has a niche at this cabaret, this club, or the Alleyway’s front room.

“Weekend Laughs” is slated to run from 10 p.m. to Midnight, every Friday in March.  At this time, it’s unclear whether the same acts will be playing every week.  Regardless, it’s guaranteed to be different every week.

For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Sons & Lovers’ by Buffalo United Artists at Main Street Cabaret

The cast of “Sons & Lovers” by Buffalo United Artists. Photo by Cheryl Gorski.

Well, who doesn’t want to stand up and shout “I am fabulous” when you’re on the brink of turning 50 and you just figured out that your husband doesn’t really like your homemade cookies?

That’s Ellen’s story, the  leading mama in Donna Hoke’s “Sons & Lovers,” opening BUA’s 25th anniversary season. She and Butch are married for almost 30 years and their only child is Bill, a 20-something waiter/actor who has a secret thing going on with Marq. Seems that the rest of the family knows that Bill is gay….except Ellen. There were plenty of hints (“He got into my makeup once and made such a mess, but he was so cute who could get mad at him,” she gushes), and while dad caught on early and grandma gave him a pretty out there gift, Ellen just never put the pieces together.

It’s Hoke’s words that sparkle and shine.

It took her big birthday (“50 is the new 30,” her son tells her) and her husband’s infidelity to put Ellen in touch with herself and her son, too.

Hoke’s script handles three heavy family bombshells (banner birthdays aren’t always easy, the apple-in-your-eye only child veering from mainstream, and infidelity) with a light touch. This is really a character story, and every last one is endearing (well, except for Butch. Nobody likes a cheater). Even Bill’s coming out is more about timing than content.

Playwright Hoke created the role of Ellen for veteran BUA actress Caitlin Baeumler Coleman: she’s charming and authentic as she frets about her round figure and graying hair. If she’s overplaying her exaggerated facial expressions, maybe it’s so she can play all the way to the back of the house.

Steve Brachmann is the perfect choice for Bill: handsome, vulnerable, and irate when he learns his Marq strayed (at the gym, no less), his finest moment is when his mom badgers him naively about the second toothbrush in his bathroom (it’s for scrubbing the grout, he claims).

Dave Granville and A. Peter Snodgrass play multiple roles with level, even aplomb. Granville’s Butch is road-weary and properly bland as the husband with a midlife crisis fling in his conscience. He’s hysterically funny as a French waiter and an Italian statue-come-to-life romantic at the Trevi fountain. Snodgrass deadpans his character Marq’s verbal lapses perfectly: Marq is a kindergarten teacher who sometimes weaves words like ‘doody head’ into his speech,  even telling Bill that “he should have given himself a time out” instead of fooling around with the gym owner.  Like Granville, he easily slips into his extra roles as campy hair stylist and hot waiter.

Director Todd Fuller uses the small stage as best he can, with actors scurrying through the house to offstage. They worked hard to change out set pieces between scenes.  A couple audio cues were off (don’t answer the phone until it actually rings) were only minor disturbances.

It’s Hoke’s words that sparkle and shine. While coming out is no walk in the park, she lets Bill’s reluctance reveal and then resolve itself without becoming cliché. She nudges her characters to mirror Bill’s strength. Afterall, “life is all about taking chances.”

Running Time: 80 minutes with no intermission.

“Sons & Lovers” runs until October 1, 2017, is produced by Buffalo United Artists, and is presented at Main Street Cabaret. For more information, click here.