Road Less Traveled Productions and Big Foot – A Killer Combo

It’s a production almost a century in the making, combining aural tradition of AM radio (first heard in WNY in 1920) and the ubiquity of Zoom, the 21st century answer to human relations during a pandemic.

Playwright Jon Elston admits to being intrigued by the late radio show host Art Bell and his call in show “Coast to Coast AM” that’s an homage to unexplained phenomena everywhere. Elston said, “I appreciate the opportunity he would get people to come on his show and given them a forum to say wild things. He let people come on his show and say whatever they wanted.   He was a right leaning libertarian with broad views.” One mystery in particular – Big Foot – is a topic, Elston said, that is “near and dear to my heart for close to 40 years.”

Elston’s fear and fascination with this creature was the inspiration for his play “Big Foot, A Live Virtual Theatrical Experience,” presented by Road Less Traveled Productions for two performances on October 2 and 9.

Yes,  Big Foot. Myth? Legend? Beast? Hoax?  Well, even science isn’t really sure.  There’s even a branch of pseudoscience – cryptozoology – devoted to the study of the existence (or not) of Sasquatch and his brethren, For Elston, the mystery (or is it suspended reality?) is part of the allure that makes for interesting theatre during these unprecedented times.

“I wanted to write about this,” Elston said, “and Scott Behrend (RLTP’s artistic director) knew this, and he has been amused by it as most people are. But desperation is the mother of invention, so he offered me the opportunity to write the play and see it become a reality online.”

For director John Hurley, that was the key: Elston wrote the play to be produced in the online environment.  “Jon wrote the play for Zoom,” said Hurley, “so we’re not trying to adapt the play to this format.”

Running only 35 minutes, the actors – Jake Hayes, Lisa Vitrano (veteran of other Elston world premieres), Robyn Horn and Peter Horn – will perform from the safety of their homes. There was only one scene shot on location. Sara Foote, stage manager, will be in the theatre, calling the show, give the prompts, and – from her position at the computer – controlling what the at-home audience will see on screen. Elston said, “I don’t think it would have been possible to do this show in the live theatre environment.

The story is set in Niagara County, as married couple Charlie and Bea (the real life married Horns) listen to a late night radio program on the paranormal hosted by Wild Doug Wilford (Hayes) with paranormal expert Earlyne Harvest Smith (Vitrano) as his subject matter expert guest. But wait? Is that….Sasquatch himself roaming the woods surrounding Charlie and Bea’s home? Elston adds to the nuance of the story by building a twist of conflict. “There’s a nice debate in the shows,” he said. “ It’s funny, there’s a kind of humor and real situation and it’s serious, too,” Elston said. If writing about giant man-animal-being isn’t surreal enough, creating theatre to be performed for an online audience, viewing it on a screen and not on a stage like the rest of our current situation: unprecedented. Elston said, “This is an exciting time and a scary time. People haven’t done this before. We’re learning in real time from each other. There’s a lot at stake here: do we just go without theatre for six months or a year or longer?”

“Big Foot, A Live Virtual Theatrical Experience,” presented by Road Less Traveled Productions for two performances on October 2 and 9, 8pm and runs a brisk 35-minutes, possibly shorter than any Zoom. Reservations at $15 and should be made prior to two hours before show time. Find details at https://www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org/bigfoot-a-live-virtual-theatrical-experience

‘Hand to God’ at Road Less Traveled

The cast of “Hand To God” at Road Less Traveled Theatre.

Poor Margery. She’s dealing with the loss of her husband by using liturgical puppets as a ministry at her Christian church. She’s not a puppeteer by trade, and she can’t sing or preach, she says, so she will show her love for the church through the Christkateers puppet club and it will be her path to salvation. That is until her son Jason’s puppet Tyrone becomes possessed by Satan, and the church pastor comes on to her in a sweet and gentle way which is NOT the way the teen Lothario of the puppet club declares his desire for her. What’s a mother to do?

So that’s the innocent set up of “Hand to God” the wickedly funny and very moving show on stage at Road Less Traveled Productions, now until March 29. It took a couple years for RLTP to finally get Robert Askins’ Tony-nominated show on stage in Buffalo, and – hand-to-God –  it will be one of the best shows you will see all season.  The script is both hilarious and deeply moving and the performances by Jenn Stafford as Margery and Dan Urtz as her son Jason are outstanding.

There’s a lot of love about this show. Dyan Burlingame’s set nails the typical church basement classroom and she cleverly drops in a concealed space that serves as two rooms in Margery and Jason’s home. Diane Almeter Jones was in touch with her inner child in searching out perfect props to add to the spaces. My favorite was the toy automobile console and steering while that Stafford “drove”  with deadpan perfection. Tyrone and Jolene – the puppets – were the work of designer Adam Kreutinger. Tyrone the sock puppet started out as a goofy gray sock dressed in child-friendly primary colors and evolved into the devil incarnate with teeth that draw blood and a demonic expression. Jolene is all woman with extra large sequin nipples. Hysterical.

It’s the acting that makes this wild ride of a script so sublime. Stafford is flat out amazing as the perfect Christian mom full of pent up sexuality covered in Southern charm. She’s exactly how you never want to imagine your mom. John Kreuzer is the slightly sweaty Pastor Greg who lusts in his heart for Margery while teaching the good word to his flock. Teen lover-boy Timmy is the kid you love to hate and Henry Farleo has the swagger to pull it off. Maura Nolan Coseglia is Jessica, the kind hearted girl in puppet club who is designing Jolene with a little bit of bad girl. It’s Dan Urtz as Jason that owns almost every scene. As Jason he’s soft-spoken and child-like; when he’s Tyrone, his voice is angry and evil and full of potty-mouth-puppet rage. He shifts gears between personae effortlessly. John Hurley’s direction keeps the show tight and on target. The funniest scene has to be when puppet Jolene tries to calm Tyrone’s inner beast with her womanly charms. If you had your fill of puppets enjoying sock-on-sock action in “Avenue  Q,” this is a whole different story. Urtz and Nolan Coseglia took this to the limit.

Underneath the loads of laughs and the twisted story of sock puppets with a mind of their own, the human story is poignant. Loneliness and isolation harm the human psyche. Dealing with loss and absent parents – through death or their own despair – have deep residual impacts. How we deal with the life we’re handed can be a painful struggle to survive, fit in, and find love. Role playing can indeed bring out our demons until our authentic selves take charge.

“Hand to God” is  great fun and an outstanding showcase for some of our region’s finest theatre talent. It run just two hours with a 15-minutre intermission to March 29. Find details and tickets at www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org.

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.

.

Opposites Attract and Repel in “The Antipodes”

The cast of “The Antipodes” at Road Less Traveled Theatre. Photo by Gina Gandolfo.

The art and process of storytelling is the central theme of ‘The Antipodes’ on stage now at Road Less Traveled Productions.

Storytelling is a cross cultural tradition that spans the ages. It’s a form of communication, level setting, and oral history gathering. It’s as natural as sunshine and can be as processed as a rectangle a bright orange cheese. And sometimes it’s just a bit creepy.

Finding the next ‘big’story is the goal for a group of storytellers that comprise this cast. The head of the project is Sandy, (South Buffalo’s Sean Cullen), and he is where the creepiness gets in. Sandy is a glad-hander, the lover of all, the hugger, the one who seems nervous about pleasing the mysterious boss on the VR screen. He comes, he goes, he returns a hot mess. As the group sits around a corporate board room table kicking around ideas for apparently no reason, you’re left to wonder why. Movie script? TV show? Vainglorious exercise in futility with a regular paycheck (for some) and  a catered free lunch?  Nice gig.

We meet Eleanor (Kristen Tripp Kelley), the only woman storyteller who knits are she spins her personal yarns. Dave (Dave Hayes) and Danny 1 (John Hurley) revel in their roles as the only repeaters on Team Sandy. Danny 2 (Dave Marciniak) is handsomely shallow as he steals one of Eleanor’s tales as his own (her glower is worth the price of admission alone). Shy guy Josh (Ricky Needham) is tricked out as a young exec and he stands alone as the one whose payroll isn’t processed and whose ideas aren’t recorded by hero-worshipper Brian (Adam Yellen). Sarah (Cassie Cameron) is the perky admin who makes sure lunch is ordered and that Sandy’s wishes are fulfilled. Cameron channels a younger Sarah Jessica Parker, down to her quirky hair tosses, side glances, and punchy delivery Carrie Bradshaw-style.

Annie Baker’s script is more character study than storytelling as it depicts everything bad about corporate brainstorming sessions. Personalities emerge and are thwarted. Weak leadership curry favor, earn praise, and retreat into their self-absorbed worlds. Earnest participants get shot down and are defeated. What starts out feeling fresh and interesting seems to spin itself into unresolved circles. Perhaps that was Baker’s intention:  a look into a world of joyless striving where the resolution is an enigma.

Lynne Koscielniak’s set is sleek and clean: corporate America with no clutter. Maura Price’s costumes fit the personalities perfectly, from Eleanor’s soft coziness to Brian’s disheveled duds. Director Scott Behrend’s direction nails the timing of ins and outs of a corporate meeting and the give-and-take around the conference table, practiced to nonchalance perfection.

‘The Antipodes’ is onstage until February 9: visit www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org. The show runs a long-feeling two hours with a 15-minute intermission and a fun opportunity to snap a selfie with the cast around the corporate table.

Theatre Review: ‘Interrogation Room’ at Road Less Traveled Theatre

 

John Vines as Det. Bremens grills Matt Witten as Gordon Peck as Nick Stevens as Det. Janetty listens in.

Interrogation Room written by local playwright and Road Less Traveled Theatre Productions co-founder Jon Elston debuted as RLTP’s second offering back in 2003.  It’s back in season 16, and remains a true edge-of-your-seat drama, very worthy of its 2004 Artie Award for Outstanding New Play. Frankly, it deserves more.

Set in (you guessed it) the interrogation room at the local police headquarters, this four-hander is all about the dialogue and the intense conversations between police and those accused (or not) of a horrific crime: an 11 year old girl is raped and murdered in her own home. Who would do such a thing? Her parents and older sister are white, and her older adopted brother is black. The family lives in refined neighborhood where murder doesn’t happen…and white parents adopting a black son may not always be embraced.

Mikey (played by Dave Tyrik) is the son in the interrogation room hot seat. Detective Bremen (John Vines and  Detective Janetty (Nick Stevens) are assigned to the case. Janetty is convinced that they have their man,  but Bremen isn’t sure. Mikey’s statement has some holes in it and while he’s cooperative, something isn’t coming together.

 But did Mikey murder his pretty little sister Ashley or not?

It’s all about the psychology of the investigation here; the proverbial good cop bad cop ballet where they dance to extract a confession from a question-weary subject. But Mikey has more to hide; he’s a young black man raised by white parents, afterall, and disappointing them is not something he is wont to do. But this white detective isn’t like his folks, there’s an animosity here that Mikey doesn’t understand, and the black detective – the authority figure who reminds him to sit up straight and dignified – commands his respect based on the race they have in common.

Neighbor Gordon Peck – craftily played by Matt Witten – insists on visiting the interrogation room; he  is sure that Mikey is guilty. He is certain beyond doubt that he saw the young suspect entering the home in a suspicious manner.  And he would know that declaratively, observing this on his carefully timed nightly walk around the neighborhood  he professes to love and wants to protect.

Director Scott Behrend had the winning combination here: a robust, relevant, layered  story and four solid actors who wrapped themselves around Elston’s words. Tyrick captures Mikey’s ‘I’m guilty of something but not murder’ nuances to a t. Stevens (last season’s Elvis in MusicalFare’s Million Dollar Quartet) balances Janetty’s love of family with his tough-talking streetwise need to have justice served now. Vines’ calm simmers low and slow throughout his performance. It’s amazing that he stepped into this role with only 17 days to prepare after two other actors bowed out. His occasional dropped lines and tiny fumbles are very forgivable and almost play into his character’s struggle to find the right words at the right time. His last scene is pure triumph – perfectly underplayed and extraordinarily powerful.

It’s Witten – who played Janetty in 2003 – that stands out. He is the smarmy guy you love to hate, with his entitled pedigree and smug attitude.  He’ll remind you of the way Jeremy Irons played Clau von Bulow in the 1990 film Reversal of Fortune. Like Claus, he has plenty to hide: watch his jumpy leg and twitchy pinky finger. That’s the kind of physical cues the cops observe when your words and your actions aren’t coming together.  Witten is deliciously wicked, cunning, contemptible.

Elston’s story is character- and dialogue-driven with intensity and fire. He creates a mood – against Dyan Burlingame’s stark set – that makes our need to live in a socially just world very real. We want to fight for it, like Bremen and Janetty so the Mikeys and Ashleys never have to be victims again. Interrogation Room runs until November 24. It’s an emotional two hours and some change (including intermission), and well worth it. Tickets and details here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Authentic Life Of Billy The Kid’ at Road Less Traveled Productions

The cast of ‘The Authentic Life of Billy The Kid’ at Road Less Traveled Theatre.

Picture it: New Mexico, 1908. An old acquaintance knocks at your door. He brings his silent (at first) mysterious driver: could he really be someone who thought has been dead for 27years? 

From its very dramatic stop-action opening scene, ‘The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid’ which opens Road Less Traveled Productions’ new season, ignites you into a strange psychological drama. It’s indeed a dark and stormy night when the former sheriff Pat Garrett (Daniel Greer) opens his cabin door to welcome former newspaperman Ash Upson (Peter Palmisano).  Amidst plenty of thunder claps and lightning cracks, Garrett flashes back to the night he shot the Kid dead at the Maxwell ranch after the Kid escaped from prison. Well, that’s what Garrett thinks and what the history books tell us, but was that really what happened? What does this do to the former Sheriff’s identity? As he says “I spent the last 25 years trying to be the man I meant to be.”

. . . ignites you into a strange psychological drama.

Playwright Lee Blessing’s story takes us down a different path. What if the Kid had master-minded a fake death with a stand in, and he’s lived an OK life under a new identity? With a little bit of Agatha Christie-esque intrigue (think ‘The Mousetrap’) and a dash of urban legend (“Elvis is alive and working at a McDonald’s in Michigan”) the story plays some mind games on Garrett while his old buddy Ash spins out his own plan to make some money on this sideshow.

Dave Mitchell is a perfect enigma as Billy the Kid. He has that cunning, haunting look about him, and he gives a little side-eye as Ash directs and coaches him along with the show he’s scripting. The interaction between these two is wild: “I’m am impresario,” Ash proclaims as he silently coaches the Kid how to illustrate a night of passion on a wooden chair and how to deliver his lines with equal passion.  Garrett is skeptical, and even though he acknowledges that “the west is what you make of it,” he’s not ready to join this circus. Yet. Ash tries to prove the Kid is the real deal, and even asks him to drop his trousers to reveal the wound Garrett caused to the Kid’s hind (“you’re staring in the face of history here,” proclaims Ash). Enter Jim P. Miller (Patrick Cameron), a surprise guest and a visitor from Texas who’s ready to buy Garrett’s property, until he gets caught up in the story. Funny how the thought of making a little extra cash can change someone so fast.

While Blessing’s story had some slow-to-emerge parts, this ensemble – directed by Road Less Traveled’s leader Scott Behrend is great.  Mitchell as the Kid lets his character delectably, slowly roll out from servant to gunslinger. Palmisano plays Ash with gusto: even when Ash nods off his chair, he’s dreaming of his next money making scheme. Greer as Garrett is solid, a force, the rock who wants what history told him he did….but some money would be good, too. It’s Cameron as Miller that is captivating: he’s all Texas charm until he weaves himself into the narrative.

Once again Dyan Burlingame’s set is dead-on, from the plank walls to the glowing kiva in the corner. Special effects, fight scenes, and ambiance are all there, bringing a little bit of outback New Mexico to downtown Buffalo. RLTP begins this season with a literal bang.

Opening night may have had a stumbled line or two (totally forgivable), but the woman next to me who whipped out her phone a few times – lights and all – to check the time…not so much. Seriously.

Running Time: 2 Hours with a 10-minute intermission.

 “The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid” runs until October 6, 2019 and is presented at Road Less Traveled Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Almost Maine’ by Road Less Traveled Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre

The cast of “Almost, Maine” by Road Less Traveled Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre.

A lot can happen in one night.

You could fall in love. Or realize it’s not love anymore. You could connect with a former flame. Or find out that our best friend really has your heart in a surprising way. Your broken heart could get mended. You might see love in a surprising new way. Or you could just revel in the beauty of the Northern Lights and wonder about love’s possibilities.

“Almost, Maine” isn’t the dramatic powerhouse that often dominates the RLTP schedule, but there’s depth that’s worth exploring in each vignette.

Welcome to “Almost, Maine,” presented by Road Less Traveled Productions and onstage at Shea’s 710 Theatre to February 24.  Playwright John Cariani introduces us to nine couples in quick vignettes as they discover new things about love and themselves all on the same winter’s night in this quaint and quirky (fictitious) town.

Each story is charming. Some folks may think they’re goofy, but there’s a lot of heart in these stories, even the tales that deliver us from the love we think we share. First we meet Pete and Ginette as they make shy declarations and clumsy analogies about physics. (Spoiler alert: we see them again. You have to love a show with a prologue, interlogue and epilogue).  Next up are Glory and East who don’t expect to find love in a former potato patch. ‘They Fell’ has best buds Jimmy and Steve competing to see who has the worst dates, until they figure out the reason why their dates are trainwrecks. ‘The Story of Hope’ is wistful about the love that might have been, and ‘Seeing the Thing’ reminds Dave and Rhonda that taking a risk is a good thing.  You get the picture: it’s everyman and everywoman in any stage of life.

It’s easy to see why “Almost, Maine” is so often produced. The cast can flex from a quartet to up to 19 actors. The set can be simple. Props are minimal and most costuming is the kind of outerwear we’re all donning this time of year (parkas and gloves and hats, oh my). Director Doug Weyand kept it blissfully simple with four versatile actors (Eve Everette, Wendy Hall, John Kreuzer, and Nicholas Lama) on a stark white set designed by Lynne Koscielniak with some interesting faux snow texture, and a subtle kaleidoscope of lights artfully designed by John Rickus. Sound designer Katie Menke selected lovely original music by Julian Fleischer to set the tone. It’s upbeat, acoustic, a little bit of fiddle and a whole lotta soul that sets the perfect mood. Weyand’s actors were good choices, too, as the residents of this place that never got too big or too organized to be officially called a town. It’s a little bit “Brigadoon” meets Bedford Falls with a dash of Northern Exposure, and it’s fun and thoughtful at the same time.

“Almost, Maine” isn’t the dramatic powerhouse that often dominates the RLTP schedule, but there’s depth that’s worth exploring in each vignette. Nobody said that love and life have to be serious.

This is an early night (90 minutes with an intermission) with a short run (to February 24), so make your plans before it’s too late. And don’t forget to look up at the stars on your walk back to your car.

Find tickets and details at www.sheas.org or www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org.

Theatre Review: ‘The Illusion’ at Road Less Traveled Theatre

The cast of “The Illusion” at Road Less Traveled Theatre.

One of the things I like best about Road Less Traveled Theatre’s productions is that you are immediately immersed in the show, or at least in its ambience. Think of last season’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” when Anthony Alcocer as the ‘motivational trainer’ began the show before the obligatory “please turn off your cell phone” announcements when the house lights were still full up. Or – later that same season – when the radio-drama-on-stage production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” integrated the pre-performance choral group ‘s last numbers into the start of the show. For “The Illusion,” Dave Hayes’ opening line is tight against the end of the pre-show reminders, on an almost fully dark stage with the measured drip-drip-drip of the cave setting punctuating his lines. Pouf! In an instant, you were in the show. Simple. Elegant. Brilliant.

Simple. Elegant. Brilliant.

It’s the subtle nuances like this seemingly small detail that makes “The Illusion” oh so fun. Spoiler alert: pay attention to these moments. Trust me, they hold meaning.

Hayes is Pridamant, a 17th century dad who seeks the guidance of a sorcerer who lives in this cave in France, in a town called Remulac. (Saturday Night Live viewers of a certain age may recall that The Coneheads said they were from France…also the planet Remulack.) He’s wistful and concerned that his son – who ran away as a lad – had vanished. Was he dead? In trouble? Disdained of his lawyer dad who was tough on him?  The all-knowing witch Alcandre – magically portrayed by Lisa Vitrano – would know, and could help. And help she does, by conjuring up images of the boy, now a man, named Calisto (Patrick Cameron). Trouble is, Calisto is in love with fair Melibea (Cassie Cameron) who wants nothing of him….or does she? The machinations of her comely maid Elicia (Sara Kow-Falcone) – who rhymes for a reason – steps in to help…or does she? Alcandre’s magical work is supported by her loyal servant Amanuesis (Rolando Gomez) who has the ability to slip to the other side. He’s silent, says Alcandre, because she’s cut off his tongue and pierced his eardrums…or does she? Calisto has competition from Matamore, hysterically played by Dave Marciniak at his bumbling finest.

This is a show of the senses, above all.  Lynne Koscielniak’s set is transformative without changing. That’s the magic of John Rickus’ lighting design that includes flashes of fire and the lanterns that extinguish and relight themselves before your eyes. Director John Hurley makes good use of the right-sized stage, letting  Calisto energetically leap between the raised surfaces and rocks on the cave floor.

Playwright Tony Kushner admitted to lots of leniency in his adaptation of tragedian Pierre Corneille’s  original French work. It doesn’t disappoint. There’s some witty repartee, some reflective moments about the relationship between fathers and son, and some real moments of wonder about the ability to see beyond what we think is obvious.

What’s abundantly clear is that the cast can’t help but have a blast with this show. Vitrano is as intense as ever as the one with the vision and power. Hayes, despite a few dropped lines, is the perfect picture of an anguished yet skeptical dad.  Kow-Falcone is a deviously devoted as the servant who is charmingly coy.

Running Time: 2 Hours with  10-minute intermission.

 “The Illusion” runs until February 10, 2019 and is presented at Road Less Traveled Theatre. For more information, click here. 

Theatre Review: ‘It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’ by Road Less Traveled Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre

The cast of “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” at Shea’s 710 Theatre.

Maybe you’ve seen the movie a bunch of times, but unless you are truly of a certain age, you’ve never seen (or heard) “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” now on stage at Shea’s 710 Theatre and produced by Road Less Traveled Productions.

. . .good night of theatre, you’ll love this production.

First produced as a radio drama in 1947 (the year after Frank Capra made the 1939 short story into a movie) for the Lux Radio Theatre, this version is Joe Landry’s 1997 adaptation. It’s set in a fictitious 1946 radio station, WBFR, and Road Less Traveled has outdone itself making sure every detail is in place to take you back. The stage set is late Art Deco, down to the font on the Applause and On Air signs hanging over head, and big head microphones the actors cluster around.

In clever Road Less Traveled style, the show’s opening takes you by surprise, and leads you into your role as a member of the live studio audience for a coast-to-coast radio broadcast. The six actors (Anthony Alcocer, Steve Copps, Kelly Copps, Charmagne Chi, Fisher, and Philip Farugia) aren’t dressed as the familiar movie characters: they are sharply dressed radio stars doing their job on Christmas Eve. And what a job!  Copps and Copps portray George and Mary Bailey, while the other four actors smoothly morph from character to character. Alcocer in particular has many conversations with himself in dueling characters. It’s a joy to watch.

Farugia has the most understated but important role of all: he’s the Foley Artist, the head sound effects guy who slams doors, makes thunder roar, and in an impressive aural and visual moment, vigorously flaps an umbrella to suggest the chugging of a train.

The others add to the soundscape, too. This is the fun stuff for the post-radio generation to watch. Flicking a deadbolt lock is the ticking of a clock. A scrub brush on a washboard is a sled wooshing down a hill. Watch Kelly Copps’ face as she sloshes her hands into the bucket of water, and later attacks the same basin with a plunger. The actors (and their characters) are having a good time.

The Copps couple (real life spouses) are charming as the Bailey husband and wife, aging in place from kids to teens, adults. Chi is perfectly sultry as the vampish Violet (“why this old thing,” she says when George admires her dress, “ I only wear it when I don’t care how I look.”) and winsomely whiny as at least two Bailey kids. If Fisher’s Mr. Martini sounds more Jamaican than Italian, his smooth baritone chops are perfectly angelic as Clarence ordering mulled wine (heavy on the cinnamon, light on the cloves).  The only quibble is Alcocer as Uncle Billy, who drawls more like a southern belle than sounding like the befuddled old uncle. Otherwise he nails the smarmy radio announcer patter and malevolent Potter characters scowls easily.

Director John Hurley brings out the best in his cast: the ensemble babble to simulate crowd noise is effective, and the frequent stage crosses to get to the mics and the “green room” (where the actors retreat to knit or read when not needed at the mics) are fluid and natural.

This kind of show – while seemingly simple – is built on complex layers of details.  The “commercial breaks” in the broadcast were value-added mentions for the production’s actual sponsors, delivered in classic vintage radio style. Heavy color saturation in the costumes, well-coiffed hair, Max Factor perfect makeup are all on point.  A minor distraction was the excessive reverb in the sound mix: maybe it was meant to give that authentic ‘40s sound (but the studio audience would have heard a more pure in-studio mix). It either dissipated as the night went on, or my ears got used to it.

Landry’s adaptation has most of the moments you love from the movie, but the real delight of this production is the show-within-the-show staging. If you loved “Remember WENN” when it too briefly aired on cable TV from 1996 to 1998, or have fond memories of listening to radio dramas, or just appreciate a good night of theatre, you’ll love this production.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with no intermission.

“It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” runs until December 17, 2017, is produced by Road Less Traveled Productions, and is presented at Shea’s 710 Theatre. For more information, click here.

First Look: ‘It’s A Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play’ by Road Less Traveled Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre

23783527_1929492243733182_666596809575129883_o.jpg

The cast of “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” at Shea’s 710 Theatre.

Picture it:  in almost every living room in 1945, a common fixture was a radio. Some sat on a table, others were a free-standing piece of furniture. It had only one purpose, albeit a lofty one: it had to bring the world into the home over the AM only frequency, complete with the air-ish whistles and pops that forced you to pay attention.  There was nothing to watch, except perhaps the clock so you knew when to turn to your favorite station for that show you didn’t want to miss, or perhaps to avoid hearing news of a world at war that was hard to escape. It was a different time.

Fast forward to now:  no doubt there’s a flat screen TV on the living room wall, and if there’s a radio, it’s probably companioned to another device. Even when you “listen” to radio over your computer, there’s often a video component, as if our aural sense needs a backup plan. Our world is visual, fast-paced, and in your face.

Road Less Traveled Productions is taking us back to the 1940s with “ It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” the on-stage version of this beloved movie’s radio drama adaptation. Confusing? Consider it a classic mash-up of literary and theatrical genres. The original rendition was a privately-published short story written in 1939, which inspired Frank Capra’s classic film released in 1946, which begat the Lux Radio Theatre Drama in 1947. That production became a theatrical production in 1997.

Picking the right version was a priority for RLTP director John Hurley. “We picked an adaption of the movie and not the original story. The movie is something everyone loves, and people might be disappointed if they came and didn’t see a scene they loved. “

Seeing a beloved movie come to life on stage is one thing: watching the show within the show brings a special element to this production, particularly since only ‘senior’ baby boomers are among the theatre goers who remember listening to live dramatic productions on the radio. (With the exception of public radio listeners who enjoyed Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” and Sirius XM’s Radio Classics station.) It’s an exciting way to experience a show with a familiar storyline, too.  Watching actors ‘act’ other characters is just part of the fun. All Foley sound effects will be ‘performed’ on stage, too. There are no off-stage enhancements.  Hurley says, “We’re pretending it’s the radio drama performed in front of a studio audience.  This makes you use parts of your brain that we’re not longer using in this day and age,” says Hurley.

Actors portraying actors who are acting creates an interesting dynamic: this six-member cast is portraying 45 roles, clamoring to share three onstage microphones, typical for radio dramas back in the day, and they even help create the Foley sound effects.  The cast also doesn’t leave the stage.

Kelly and Steve Copps portray the actors playing George and Mary Bailey, a fun opportunity for this real-life husband and wife.  Kelly says, “In essence, these people are very much like us. They’re your average guy and girl, and like every guy and girl, they have beautiful moments, and tough times.” 

They agree that sharing the stage is great fun. Kelly says, “We’re obviously very comfortable with each other, and aside from it being lovely to fall in love on stage, it’s great to watch each other work. Steve is so charming as George Bailey that I dare anyone not to fall in love with him.” Steve says, “As parents of children ages 3 and 1, it’s wonderful to have some time to ourselves (even if we are on stage in front of hundreds of people!) There’s already an innate sense of comfort with her, so it makes any potentially anxious situations easier.

Neither Copps have listened to radio dramas before, but are energized as actors by the unique edge it brings to the production. Kelly comments, “I have a soft spot in my heart for this style of music and dialogue, but the radio aspect is new to me. I love to close my eyes and listen when the others are speaking, and doing the Foley effects.”

This “theatre of the mind” aspect of radio carries over to the theatre experience, too. The set is a 1940s radio studio and green room, down to the late art deco décor. The actors are costumed as famous radio actors in street clothes, not like characters from the movie. The props and set pieces are things you would see in a radio station, not Bedford Falls. The cool factor is heightened with the traditional Foley sound effects performed on stage, led by Phil Farugia. “If you’re going to tromp through snow, you’ll see how it’s done without actual snow on stage.” Even with these visual prompts, “everything has to be done with the voice,” Hurley says. “If the audience closes their eyes, they should feel like they’re watching the movie.”

And you’ll know what happens when you hear a bell ring.

“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” is onstage at 710 Main Theatre, produced by Road Less Traveled Productions from Dec 1-17, 2017. For more information, click here.

Promotional Consideration Paid For By The Theatre Alliance Of Buffalo.