Theater REVIEWS BY ANTHONY CHASE

The month of November has geared up to be nearly as busy as Curtain Up on the stages of Western New York.  The combination of classics and newer works provides a veritable theatrical feast, with something to engage many different tastes.

Saul4000 MILES

Last week’s most auspicious occasion was assuredly a visit from playwright Amy Herzog to celebrate the opening of her play 4000 Miles at Jewish Repertory Theatre of WNY. This handsome and skillfully acted production marks the beginning of an entire season at JRT concocted by company co-founder Saul Elkin, and dedicated entirely to Herzog’s work.  This witty yet soulful play, about the relationship between a grandmother and grandson as they both encounter grief, will be followed by Herzog’s After the Revolution in February, and The Great God Pan in April.

It’s a bold and exciting season, and a great idea, especially at a time when gender parity in the American theater is such a hotly discussed issue.  While in town, Herzog lamented that she seems to be relegated to off-Broadway, despite being a Pulitzer finalist, and that this fate currently seems to greet nearly all women playwrights in this country.

Elkin has certainly assembled an impressive cast for 4000 Miles.  Marvelous Ellen Horst plays the grandmother; Nick Stevens is the grandson, Leo.  Sara Kow-Falcone has an impressive turn as Leo’s date for an evening.  Marissa Biondolillo does well as his exiting girlfriend.

One issue that did emerge during an otherwise flawless celebration of Herzog’s work, was the revelation that JRT had altered her script and that they had contemplated “cutting and softening” the play’s sometimes coarse language.  Not only does their production not begin, as scripted, with the reunion between grandmother and grandson already in progress, JRT has provided additional lines, not scripted by Herzog.  This is so not cool. Earlier in the day, Herzog had made a point of emphasizing that she prefers writing for the live theater over television or film writing, because it is only in the theater that language and the playwright’s words are sacred. Not so, it would seem, in Getzville, where just last year, an otherwise appealing production of Compulsion by Rinne Groff, also altered the play, hacking away large sections of text.

Very cool season, JRT!  Very uncool script tampering.

killHOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND THEN KILL THEM

The buzz over Halley Feiffer’s black dark “comedy,” How to Make Friends and Then Kill Them, reminds me of the initial reaction to the work of Britain’s Sarah Kane (Blasted, Skin, Crave), which is similarly obsessed with co-dependency, pain, and torture.  Many critics cringed in horror and revulsion.  Audiences — especially young audiences — flocked in droves.  This play about two sisters from a dysfunctional family adopt a social misfit as their one and only friend.  The title sums up the rest.

The play is currently being performed at ART of WNY on Amherst Street, in a production directed by Maura Nolan, and featuring the brave talents of Sue McCormick, Melissa Levin, and Mara Morris. ART seems to specialize in plays like American Idiot and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson that have hard-driving youth appeal, and quirky plays of the past, like John Guare’s House of Blue Leaves and Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile.  Feiffer’s work would seem to slide happily into the former category.  The production continues through November 19th.

mollyTHE UNFORTUNATES AND OTHERS

And while horror is in season, Red Thread Theatre is presenting The Unfortunates by Aoise Stratford in which Kelly Meg Brennan portrays Mary Jane Kelly, the final victim of Jack the Ripper, directed by Josephine Hogan.  This one-person performance was inspired by Stratford’s fascination with details about the lives of the famed serial killer’s five known victims, poor women who struggled to get by in Victorian London.  The play has been widely celebrated.  The production continues through November 12.

Also this week we see the return of four plays that have been highly successful in previous Buffalo productions: Dale Wasserman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest about the patients in a mental hospital, presented by Subversive Theatre at the Manny Fried Playhouse; R.C. Sherriff’s inspired and hilarious riff on the films of Alfred Hitchcock, The 39 Steps at the Kavinoky; Peter Schaffer’s psychological drama, Equus, at the Irish Classical Theatre, about a boy who undergoes psychological evaluation after he blinds an entire stable of horses; and Sam Shepard’s True West about the rivalry between two brothers, recently reunited.   

rosemaryTENDERLY: THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY MUSICAL

Finally, Debbie Pappas will assume the persona of one of America’s most popular mid century chanteuses, in Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, which takes its title from one of Clooney’s most enduring hits.  The musical, by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, also features Louis Colaiacovo, and has been directed by Doug Weyand.  The production continues through December 4th.