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52 Theater Highlights of 2013

"The Book of Mormon" came to Shea's in June.

If you were so inclined, every week of 2013 could have been filled with theater. The offerings were abundant and diverse. Week by week, here are 52 highlights of last year.

1. January brought the arrival of Priscilla Young-Anker with a wryly comical yet affecting performance in Jesus Hates Me by Wayne Lemon at American Repertory Theater of WNY, a production directed by Michael Lodick that also featured Matthew Kindley, Anthony Alcocer, Bryan Figueroa, Maura Nolan, and Jacob Kahn in a story of torrid intrigues in small-town America. (Later at ART, director Gail Golden would channel Kaufman and Hart to deliver a lighthearted take on the re-writing of the Gone with the Wind screenplay, with Moonlight and Magnolias, set in Hollywood in the 1930s, starring Guy Wagner, David C. Mitchell, Todd Fuller, and Jamie Nablo-Lama.)

2. Amy Jakiel’s performance in Rent, the musical by Jonathan Larson that ran at MusicalFare last winter, was a delight.

3. Angels in America, Parts and One and Two by Tony Kushner, presented by Subversive Theatre with two casts, was sprawling and sometimes chaotic, with some questionable alteration. Nonetheless, the adventure was exciting.

4. In February, the doors of 710 Main were opened again, with a locally produced play, the Road Less Traveled production of Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation, directed by Scott Behrend, starring Lisa Vitrano, Dave Hayes, Morgan Chard, Robert Rutland, and Kelsey George Mogensen as members of an acting workshop. In the fall, Behrend would return to 710 with a solid production of Clybourne Park starring Vitrano, Bob Grabowski, Matt Witten, Barry Williams, Danica Riddick, Diane Curley, and Dave Mitchell. To add to the festivities, they brought the original Broadway director, Buffalo’s Pam McKinnon, in for the company’s 10th anniversary celebration.

Road Less Traveled's "Clybourne Park" at 710 Main Street. (photo by Mike Grantham)
"The Borrowers" at Theatre of Youth.
"August: Osage County" at the Kavinoky.

5. Buffalo United Artists got permission from Joe DiPietro to stage Fucking Men, his gay retelling of La Ronde. Directed by Javier Bustillos, the production featured Brant Adamczyk, Stephen Brachmann, Joey Bucheker, Richard Fanning, J. R. Finan, Jimi Konidis, Matthew Crehan Higgins, James Mikula, Michael Seitz, and James Wild.

6. Candace Whitfield gave a memorable and nuanced performance in Lydia Diamond’s Stick Fly at the Paul Robeson Theatre, a production directed by Willie W. Judson, Jr., about secrets and dysfunction in a wealthy and influential African-American family that also featured fine performances by Ashley Dolson, Marcus Thompson, Jr., Brandon Williamson, Elexa Kopty, and Hugh Davis.

7. In February, a superior ensemble of charismatic women energized Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa, presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company. Directed by Derek Campbell, the production featured Wendy Hall, Beth Donohue, Katie White, Elizabeth Oddy, and Andrea Gollhardt. Chris Kelly, Tom LaChiusa, and Gerry Maher did an admirable job of trying to keep up with them.

8. Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, once again, uplifted the Kavinoky Theatre with the backstage antics of a cursed theater company. Directed by David Lamb, this popular revival starred Josie DiVincenzo, Lisa Ludwig, Peter Palmisano, Christian Brandjes, John Fredo, Michele Marie Roberts, Guy Balotine, Kevin Craig, and Jessica Ferraday. It was nice to see it again.

9. They got to boogie, they loved the nightlife, on the disco when Priscilla Queen of the Desert came round to Shea’s in February. It was an appealing tour of the show about drag queens traversing the Australian Outback en route to a gig. As Shea’s season continued, Buffalo also got a sold-out look at the irreverent and irrepressible The Book of Mormon for a single week in June. Then we got a look at the thrilling puppetry of War Horse, when the touring production paid a visit to Shea’s in November.

10. 2013 celebrated 40 years of Theatre of Youth with Long Live TOY, a documentary film by Austin McLoughlin and Mary Elizabeth Murray that started out as a celebration of theater for kids, but ended up as an homage to perseverance against political opposition.

11. First Lady Suite, the 1993 chamber musical by Western New York native Michael John LaChiusa, finally received its momentous Buffalo debut in March, presented by American Repertory Theater of WNY. Directed by Matthew LaChiusa, the musically complex show starred Katy Miner, Mary Ryan, Shayna Raichilson-Zadok, Leanne Troutman, Jackie Davis, Katie McMahon, and John Calvin, and examined moments in the lives of Jackie Kennedy, Ladybird Johnson, Mamie Eisenhower, Bess Truman, and Eleanor Roosevelt—with a dash of Amelia Earhart, Marian Anderson, and Lorena Hickok tossed in.

12. Donna Hoke’s play Seeds, directed by Kristin Tripp Kelley at Road Less Traveled, and starring Kelly Jakiel and Diane Curley as twin sisters working through a fertility issue, also featured Todd Benzin, Diane DiBernardo, and Pamela Rose Mangus. An excellent play with excellent performances all around, the script would walk off with the Artie Award for Outstanding New Play.

13. Tim Newell once again took on the Jack Benny persona in Mark Humphrey’s one-man vehicle Mister Benny. The show was presented at the Jewish Repertory Theatre, directed by Saul Elkin. Later in the season, Elkin and Adam Rath would give winning performances at Jewish Rep as a veteran actor and an up and comer in David Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre.

14. Theatre of Youth set designer Kenneth Shaw and puppeteer Adam Kreutinger created a delightful world in miniature for Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, the story of a tiny family adapted for the stage by Charles Way and directed by Meg Quinn, starring Arin Lee Dandes, Loraine O’Donnell, Marc-Jon Filippone, Lee Becker, Jacob Kahn, and Annette Daniels Taylor. (Also at TOY, Jacob Albarella and Bobby Cooke were adorable as the title characters in A Year With Frog and Toad.)

15. James Ivey of the Fredonia Theater faculty channeled legendary defense attorney Clarence Darrow in a one-man docu-drama by David W. Rintels presented by Subversive Theatre, directed by Tom Loughlin in March.

16. Buffalo United Artists delivered a riotous yet pointed skewering of gender and racial politics in Ricky Graham’s L’Imitation of Life, a spoof of the 1959 Lana Turner-Sandra Dee-Juanita Moore film, Imitation of Life, about the relationship of a glamorous blond Broadway star, her African-American housekeeper, and their two daughters. While the production featured star turns by Jimmy Janowski, Bebe Bvlgari, and Maria Droz, the revelation was Luther Nelson in the Juanita Moore role.

The cast of "Ain't She Brave."
"Hamlet" at Shakepeare in Delware Park. (photo by Chris Scinta)
The Irish Classical's "School for Husbands." (photo by Gene Witowski)

17. Adriano Gatto, Joe Liolos, and Vincent O’Neill shared duties in revealing the wit and personality of Irish playwright and all-round rascal Brendan Behan in Jim Sheridan’s Being Behan, directed by his brother and co-author Peter Sheridan at the Andrews Theatre. Mr. Sheridan came in from Dublin for the occasion.

18. Victoria Perez was outstanding as a Brazilian maid who would rather tell jokes than clean in Derek Campbell’s smart production of Sarah Ruhl’s magical comedy, The Clean House. The capable cast featured similarly compelling performances by Peter Palmisano, Mary McMahon, Christina Rausa, and Margaret Massman at Road Less Traveled Theater.

19. A sweet and low-key production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at O’Connell & Company was directed by Guy Tomassi, and starred Nicholas Lama, Anne Roaldi, Steven E. Sitzman, Josh Snyder, Arin Lee Dandes, and Joey Bucheker. The production marked a gearing-down of the company’s tenure at Erie Community College North Campus, but impressed with lovingly performances of the beloved characters. The company would later celebrate their arrival in their new home at the Park School in Snyder with a blissful performance of The Kathy & Mo Show: Parallel Lives/The Dark Side with Pamela Rose Mangus and Mary Kate O’Connell.

20. Dan Shanahan of Torn Space Theater took on Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Blood on the Cat’s Neck, in a leisurely, arguably ritualistic production featuring Jessica Wegrzyn as an extraterrestrial bent on destruction. Angie Shriner, Diane Gaidry, Becky Globus, Christopher Standart, Johnny Toohill, Andy Kottler, James Wilde, Ivan Rodriguez, and Bonnie Jean Taylor also populated this disturbing yet fascinating drama at the Adam Mickiewicz Dramatic Circle on Fillmore Avenue.

21. In April, the New Phoenix Theatre in collaboration with Subversive Theatre Collective presented Budd Schulberg’s On the Waterfront, directed by Kurt Schneiderman with a large cast. The production proved that this post-war tale of morality and ambition still resonates powerfully.

22. A perennial favorite, David Mamet’s American Buffalo resonated with me for an affecting crossover performance by Jose Rivera as a young man who gets in over his head in the company of hapless petty thieves, directed by Brian Cavanagah at the Andrews Theatre and also starring Brian Mysliwy and Christian Brandjes.

23. Vast and ambitious, the Kavinoky’s April production of Tracey Letts’s Pulitzer Prize winning August: Osage County featured a large cast and a tale of family dysfunction worthy of a Mexican telenovela. Sheila McCarthy won her fourth Artie in as many categories as the monstrous, drug-addicted matriarch of a fractured Oklahoma family. The first-rate cast also included Saul Elkin, Eileen Dugan, Tim Newell, Norman Sham, Kelli Bocock-Natale, Kristen Tripp-Kelley, Brian Riggs, Kelly Meg Brennan, Steve Jakiel, Steve Copps, Kay Kerimian, and Zoe Appler. Numerous moments resonate in the memory: Sham supporting and defending the son who is not biologically his own, played by Copps; Bocock-Natale softening the pain and disappointment of her life with barbs directed at others. Memorable all around.

24. In May, Brazen-Faced Varlets offered a gender-bender take on the Oedipus story, Oedipus Rex: A Fabulous Travesty in One Act! by Michael O’Donohoe, directed by Lara D. Haberberger.

25. With Two Weeks Until the Rest of My Life, playwright Paulette D. Harris took on the scorching romance genre, adapting Harold T. Fisher’s story of an affair between a mature woman and a younger man. Directed by Mary Craig, Annette Christian and Pete Johnson starred with Chalma Warmley, Sandra Gilliam, Debbi Davis, Quaneajah Miller, and Tiaona Loman at Paul Robeson Theatre in the African American Cultural Center.

26. Shantina Moore energized Kia Crothron’s Breath, Boom, about girl gangs in the housing projects of the Bronx presented by Ujima, and directed by Lorna C. Hill.

27. Opera-Lytes, continued their devotion to the Gilbert and Sullivan oeuvres with The Pirates of Penzance, directed by Lisa Berglund, presented at Alleyway Theatre.

28. Desiderio’s Dinner Theatre never flags in its dedication to the theater form that arguably helped invent Buffalo’s theater community back in the 1970s. They brought in a fine production of The Odd Couple by comic master Neil Simon, directed by Jay Desiderio, starring Marc-Jon Filippone and David Bondrow as mismatched roommates.

29. Second Generation Theatre arrived on the scene with a bold production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, directed by Chris Kelly. The rambling production was buoyed aloft by a super-charged talented cast, the pure joy of performance, and elation at seeing the torch passed down to a new generation.

30. Younger actors also lent the Irish Classical Theatre production of Hugh Leonard’s A Life haunting eloquence as they evoked the events early in the life of the central character. Joe Liolos, Jamie Nablo, Genevieve Lerner, and Patrick G. McGee gave impressive performances, parallel to their more seasoned co-stars.

31. Signaling the start to the summer season, Shakespeare in Delaware Park took on the big one, Hamlet, in a big production directed by Saul Elkin, starring Shaun Sheley as the tormented Dane, with Tim Newell, Tom Loughlin, Lisa Vitrano, Rebecca Elkin-Young, Richard Hummert, Adam Rath, John Profeta, Anthony Alcocer, and Adam Yellen.

32. BUA Takes Ten 2013 attracted more than 200 entries, and the result, curated by Donna Hoke and Matthew Crehan Higgins, was a fun and provocative evening of 10 selected plays about the LGBT experience starring Caitlin Coleman, Kevin Craig, Kurt Erb, Victoria Perez, Jessica K. Rasp, Marc Sacco, and Alisse Sikes.

33. With Talk to Me Now, Randall Kramer and Theresa Quinn took MusicalFare squarely into the realm of edgy contemporary rock musicals in a story that explored feminism in 19th-century music and today. Directed by Kramer, the show starred Philip Farugia, Robert Insana, John Kaczorowski, Renee Landrigan, and Quinn.

34. One of the quirkier theater events of 2013 was Car Plays 2013, in which short plays by Jon Elston, Donna Hoke, Steve Roylance, and Darryl Schneider were performed in automobiles in the parking lot at Elmwood and Great Arrow for audiences who sat in the back seat. Gerry Maher, Tracy Snyder, Bonnie Jean Taylor, Sabrina Kahwaty, Jonathan Young, Lee Becker (Jeremy Melendez at the performance I attended), and Dan Greer embodied these intimate tales.

ART's "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson."
"Bounty: the Mutiny" at the New Phoenix.
The Kavinoky's "Miracle on South Division Street." (photo by Simon Faber)

35. At times, Torn Space Theater veers so far away from characters and storytelling so as to depart from the realm of theater altogether. Sometimes, however, they forge into familiar territory to create something new. That was the case with their July production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, which featured a realistic first half, looking out through a bank of windows on an upper floor of the Dnipro Ukrainian Center on Genesee Street onto Buffalo’s East Side, and a second act in which the seats were reconfigured to face the opposite direction, looking into an entirely expressionistic setting of draperies and videos. Megan Callahan directed.

36. Lorna C. Hill took a captivating young company through their paces at Buffalo East in Ain’t She Brave, an ensemble piece by Erika D. Gault and Ntare Ali Gault reminiscent of for colored girls…, presented by Njozi Ensemble and starring Davida Tolbert, Danica Riddick, and Monique Webb.

37. Jimmy Janowski returned to Bodega Bay in August with his hilarious Alfred Hitchcock spoof, The Birds Attack! at Buffalo United Artists, also starring Bebe Bvlgari, Timothy Patrick Finnegan, Eric Rawski, Luis A. Rodriguez, Michael Seitz, and Christopher Standart, directed by Todd Warfield.

38. The whole town sat up and paid attention when American Repertory Theater of WNY inaugurated their new space at Church of the Ascension with a vigorous production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, the punk-rock musical by Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers, directed by Jeffrey Coyle, and starring Steve Copps in the title role. It was a fine production and it’s a terrific space, which the company would use to equal effect with Little Robert, a new play by Mark Humphrey in which Robert Ernie Insana played a messenger from the devil who is outwitted by a musical legend played by Hugh Davis. Great fun!

39. I had great fun at Buffalo Rises, which presented eight 10-minute plays about Buffalo, directed by Scott Behrend. Playwriting was the centerpiece of the enterprise, but the evening had a vivid and exhilarating look and a kinetic energy and sense of dynamism, especially as it moved from one play to the next.

40. To close their soon to be demolished space on Chippewa, BUA presented Steven Fales in Confessions of a Mormon Boy, his autobiographical one-man play about dealing with being gay and Mormon, and his fall into and rise from male prostitution. It played to sold-out houses.

41. Wendy Hall wowed audiences as the wife in The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer at the Manny Fried Playhouse.

42. The Irish Classical Theatre Company presented a charming production of Moliere’s School for Husbands in September directed by Fortunato Pezzimenti, and starring Christian Brandjes, Gerry Maher, Kay Kerimian as Sganarelle, Angie Shriner, Jessica Stuber, Matthew Nerber, and Kevin Craig.

43. Alan Trinca turned heads with his performance as Alex in the Torn Space production of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange in October.

44. Celebrated actor/playwright David Drake (The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me) brought his cabaret act An Evening with Tawny Heatherton, in which he plays the fictional niece of 1970s icon and mattress pitchwoman Joey Heatherton to Elmwood Gallery for the Arts.

45. With young people a major theme of the season, Arin Lee Dandes and Anne Roaldi excelled as sisters in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds at New Phoenix Theatre on the Park, and Zoe Diana nailed her monologue as their ghoulishly competitive classmate.

46. Lillian Hellman’s delicious melodrama, The Little Foxes, was given a handsome production by the Irish Classical Theatre.

47. Jessica L. Hall gave a vivid performance as the soprano who sings “Lady Macbeth” in Terrence McNally’s Master Class, starring Christina Rausa as the divine Maria Callas.

48. The city was charmed by Miracle on South Division Street, a light comedy written and directed by Tom Dudzick, about a Buffalo family compelled to face the truth, starring Ellen Horst, Bonnie Jean Taylor, Charmagne Chi, and Ben Puglisi at the Kavinoky Theatre.

49. Bounty: the Mutiny, illuminated a familiar story with a dynamic company developed version of the tale, devised and directed by Robert Waterhouse, starring Christian Brandjes, Chris Kelly, Richard Lambert, Adam Yellen, Geoff Pictor, J. F. Kennedy, Zoe Appler, Alphonso Walker, and Geoffrey Devereux at the New Phoenix.

50. With their production of Carmen Rivera’s La Gringa, Raíces Theatre Company moved one step closer to providing Buffalo with a regularly producing Latin theater company. Rivera attended the opening night.

51. Buffalo Public Theatre arrived on the scene, in association with Ujima Company, with The Wizard of Oz, directed by Kelli Bocock-Natale, starring Cecelia Barone, Brian Riggs, Bobby Cooke, Eric Rawski, and Loraine O’Donnell. (Next up, The Trojan Women starring Lorna C. Hill.)

52. Finally, I got a good holiday chuckle seeing Betsy Bittar as a discontented Mrs. Santa Claus in the holiday farce, You Can’t Get a Decent Margarita at the North Pole at the Manny Fried.