RLTP Celebrates New Work

Theatres are usually dark on Monday nights, but Road Less Traveled Productions is shining its spotlight tonight in honor of regional playwrights whose work was selected for the 10-Minute Play Fest, a new initiative.

Tonight’s 10-Minute Play Fest features seven area playwrights who penned new works to compete in this first-time outreach. Said Scott Behrend, RLTP director, “RLTP has supported WNY playwrights for 15 years. The nature of that support has continually evolved, and I wanted to create an opportunity for new playwrights to showcase their work and to introduce some of them to the WNY theatre community. “

RLTP Literary Department Manager Katie Malinson and New Play Coordinator Jon Elston managed this project which began last year with an open submission call. Playwrights from Rochester to Ontario responded and a team of adjudicators reviewed each submission to arrive at the seven works that are featured tonight. Malinson said, “The intent of this project is to find new voices for the company and reach playwrights who haven’t hadn’t their work produced at RLTP yet and have their new works on our stage.”

The plays will be presented tonight as staged readings, with a different cast for each play. The playwright and the director collaborated on casting. This project attracted some new-to-RLTP actors and directors, as well. “There are so many people I haven’t worked with,” says Malinson.

Malinson said she is pleased with the results from this first-time outreach. “We’ve done other staged readings before, but not like this. All of tonight’s plays are quirky, fun pieces with different takes on life and relationships.”

For the playwrights, this is another opportunity to have their work heard by a live audience. Perhaps it’s also that little extra nudge a writer may need to develop a short work into a full-length play. Darleen Pickering-Hummert is one of the seven playwrights selected for this evening’s reading. She says, “I think writers always have anxiety about sharing their work with anyone else and in this case, it’s with a live audience!   I’m over the moon to have Connie Caldwell reading my “Stage Mothers” piece directed by Kyle LoConti. Thanks to Road Less Traveled for presenting this event because it’s so important to encourage and nurture playwrights.”  

In addition to Stage Mothers, tonight’s line up includes: “1/5” by Jes Tokarski; “In The Air Tomorrow Night” by j. Snodgrass; “Blood Orange” by Marcus Scott; “A Play Within A Play” by Hilary Lyons; “Cog and Em” by Nolan Miles; and “Pausing at the Fringe” by David Healey.

The RLTP 10-Minute Play Fest is a one-night only event on Monday January 28 at 7:30pm.  Tickets are $10 each and available online at www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org, or by calling the RLTP Box Office at (716) 629-3069.  Seating is limited. Advance purchase required.

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

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

The spirit moved a full house to attend opening night of “The Christian”’ presented by Road Less Traveled Productions, ironically housed in the former Christian Center in downtown Buffalo. The audience is the congregation for this production, and the stage is the altar in a sleek, contemporary mega church, with a faux stained glass window as a video screening, lots of microphones, and plenty of conviction. It’s in this setting of a weekly worship service that playwright Lucas Hnath’s slow-simmering script posts the question “What if there is no Hell?”

. . .ends Road Less Traveled’s 14th season in a provocative way.

That earth-shattering message is delivered by ‘Pastor’ Dave Hayes who is perfectly slick as the spiritual leader of his stalwart congregation. His long and passionately delivered sermon is in four parts: Where Are We Now, A Powerful Urge, The Fires of Hell, and A Radical Change. It’s almost an academic construct: the first section reviews the church’s history and Pastor offers thanks as the church debt is now paid. In section two, he retells how he met his wife on an airplane when he passed her a note that says “I have a powerful urge to communicate with you but the distance between us is insurmountable.” All heck breaks loose in section three, where he unfolds the heart of his message: at a conference for pastors he heard a story of a young man who died saving his little sister’s life. He wasn’t Christian, but he was a selfless hero. Where’s his eternal reward?  Or is he to be punished for his lack of belief? The debate begins in section four as the Pastor and Associate Pastor (in a riveting performance by Aaron Moss) fire Biblical quotes and heartfelt statements at each other in debate. This is the good stuff: the passion between leader and rising leader, the unspoken tension between the Pastor’s wife and the church elder. The heart-felt question from a congregant. Hayes and Moss are perfectly matched.

Hayes has all the vocal highs and lows of any televangelist. As a Pastor, he knows how to tend his flock: he praises their support, he smiles at his lovely wife, he points to the congregants with pride…and then he shakes their world. Moss is on fire: where Hayes is polished and maybe too comfortable as the spiritual, Moss is all passion and bravado. It’s elegant to watch. Lisa Vitrano is the Pastor’s wife, smartly dressed in a conservative suit with layers of sparkle, down to her gilt shoes, she doesn’t speak a word for most of the show, but her conflict is in every expression and gesture she makes. When she finally opens up, it’s a welcomed surprise. It’s a perfect moment when congregant Victoria Perez leaves her seat in the audience to speak to her Pastor. ‘Til now, Perez is the ideal congregant: loyal, trusting, believing.  She accepts the church’s support to improve her quality of life, and she tithes more than her fair share, until she questions her beloved Pastor’s new philosophy. You hear the incredulity in her voice. Steve Jakiel is the solid church elder who wants what’s best for the greater good.

What would have sent this production over the top was even more music from the gifted music director Karen Saxon, an off-stage presence. How awesome it would have been to see some members of a church choir on stage swaying in their satiny robes with some live music, preaching through song.

The best theater is supposed to leave us with questions or at least thoughts that reflect our unique experience. “The Christians”certainly has that potential. It also ends Road Less Traveled’s 14th season in a provocative way.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

‘The Christians’ is onstage until May 20, 2018. For more information, click here. 

First Look: ‘Disgraced’ at Road Less Traveled Theatre

When it comes to producing new works, Road Less Traveled Productions has no problem taking the gritty new words of contemporary playwrights, and putting them on the stage. These works are often time real life situations that audiences can relate to, about topics that are very hard to discuss, and that cause tension and uneasy feelings. This is exactly what you will find in the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Disgraced” by Ayad Akhtar, opening March 9 at Road Less Traveled Theatre.

“This show discusses exactly what Grandma told you not to talk about in mixed company, politics, religion, and race,” says John Hurley, who is directing this show, “this script is so fast and furious, it will really keep your interest.”

“Disgraced” tells the story of a dinner party, where the guests come from very different walks of life, including; the American-born, Muslim raised lawyer who works at a prestigious law firm in Manhattan and is up for a promotion; his white wife who is an artist; her Jewish art dealer, and an African American co-worker who was just granted a huge promotion. These characters take the audience on a rollercoaster ride of debate, and in the end, the audience must decide who is right.

“All five characters are intelligent,” says Hurley, “they are looking at a problem, giving their own angle on the situation, and they are all trying to remain friends.”

In social times where there seems to be lots of unrest in various societal issues, Hurley says that this is a play that America needs right now. “I love the play, and what I love about it is as you watch it, you find that there are no right answers,” says Hurley, “the characters dump a bunch of information onto your lap, and you are asked to form your own opinions. It’s a play that doesn’t preach.”

Scott Behrend, the executive/artistic director of Road Less Traveled, has really been spearheading the efforts to bring contemporary theatre to the Buffalo stage in recent years. “Scott brought this play to the board for approval, and there was a little back and forth over doing it,” says Hurley. “One of the major obstacles being casting. We truly lucked out with everyone we cast in this show.”

This Road Less Traveled Production stars Kristen Tripp Kelley, Matt Witten, Candace Whitfield, Afrim Gjonbalaj and Mohammad Farraj. “This cast has been an absolute joy to work with,” says Hurley.

What does a director hope his audience gets from a show that asks them to sit and watch a very uncomfortable situation take place? “Whatever you want to take away from it,” says Hurley, “this is not a play of answers. You will learn a lot about Islam, art, the law, and the show is not going to tell you what to think.”

“Disgraced” opens on March 9 and runs until March 31, 2018. It is presented at Road Less Traveled Theatre. For more information, click here.

Promotional Consideration Paid For By The Theatre Alliance Of Buffalo.