Next story: Stagefright
by Anthony Chase
A look at four current local productions
RING OF FIRE
When Ring of Fire, featuring the songs of Johnny Cash opened at Studio Arena Theatre in 2005, there was the thrill of renewed energy at a theater that had not sent a show to New York in years, buoyed by the presence of Richard Maltby, Jr. who had created Ain’t Misbehavin’. The enthusiasm of Buffalo audiences gave the producers confidence to skip a San Francisco engagement and head straight for Broadway, where it died a fast death at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. In 2013, Maltby directed a reconceived version, scaled down to five performers that played in Milwaukee. Musicalfare has picked up on the more intimate version for a very appealing production that showcases the mostly familiar music of Johnny Cash with a charismatic and talented cast. Gone is the dark back story and absurd videography of the first version. The focus is now squarely on the music and on the legacy of a talented man. The show is still no Ain’t Misbehavin’. We feel a lack of specific personalities gaining energy from joyful collisions with each other. What we do get is a rousingly wonderfully good time. Michael Walline directs with Katie Clark, Steve Copps, Kevin Craig, Philip Farugia, Bob Mazierski, Theresa Quinn, Zak Ward, and Maggie Zindle. Through Feb 28.
FREUD’S LAST SESSION
Mark St. Germain’s play imagines a meeting between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, in which the two men spar over their radically different world views. As the play begins, Lewis assumes that he has been summoned to account for a parody of Freud in his most recent book; as it turns out, Freud has not even read it. Indeed the ideas and agenda of Freud seem to tower far above Lewis, whose need for God intrigues Freud. This is not a debate—all of the debating points go to Freud—as much as it is a study in contrasts over a view of the meaning of life—Freud’s is about to come to an end. The action is heightened by setting this conversation in London as World War II escalates, threatening the existence of humanity itself. I had seen the play before, with Judd Hirsch playing Freud. Here the role is taken by David Oliver who gives a clear and affecting performance. The Lewis character, agreeably played by Matt Witten, is relegated to deflecting the intrusions of a genius with charm and the occasionally uncomfortable observation. The production, under the direction of Katie Mallinson, continues at Road Less Traveled Theater through Feb. 14.
WHY WE HAVE A BODY
Brazen-Faced Varlets continues to reboot the company with a production of Claire Chafee’s Why We Have a Body about the intertwined relationships for four women, using some of their A-list actors, Jennifer Fitzery, Heather Fangsrud, Lara Haberberger, and Jeanne Vuich, under the direction of Elizabeth Oddy. This quirky little play about the mental obstacles that cause us to stumble packs a lot of content into the tiny space at Rust Belt Books, now at 415 Grant St.
ALL MY SONS
Audiences are loving the Irish Classical Theatre Company production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons which concludes its run at the Andrews Theatre this weekend. The scenery is minimal, but none goes un-chewed as an excellent cast tears into the material with all the nuance and moderation of Grand Opera. What happens to a family when their reputation and happiness are founded on a greedy and murderous lie? Greg Natale directs Peter Palmisano, Josie DiVincenzo, Anthony Alcocer, Candice Kogut and others in a production that will be remembered for its emotional heights, if not for its dramatic insight. Here we go full throttle for the melodrama, wasting no time to explore the subtleties and symbolism of Miller’s examination of what drives us to forgive ourselves in the act of exploiting others, and the capacity of all of us to close our eyes to inconvenient truths. At times the production ignores the obvious physicality of its actors, as when statuesque Kogut moves in on feisty but diminutive DiVincenzo; or when an actor casually exits with a hat, established by Miller as one of his famously overwrought symbols, as if we aren’t even supposed to notice. Still, all this emoting is undeniably crowd pleasing, and who doesn’t love Arthur Miller? All My Sons closes on Feb. 7.
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