Theater at Midseason
by Anthony Chase
At the holiday pause, a look back at the theater season so far
The Christmas shows that have become so abundant in Buffalo mark the middle of a theater season that runs from June to June. Summer is the traditional dividing line, because audiences travel when the heat sets in.
This Christmas offered an unusual diversity of fare, though none was more charming than the adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen at Theatre of Youth, directed by Meg Quinn. Exquisitely designed by Kenneth Shaw, the show boasted a strong ensemble cast of six: Mary McMahon as the Snow Queen, Danica Riddick and Justin Fiordaliso as the central characters; and Kurt Erb, Laura Bevilacqua, and Kathleen Gaffney in multiple roles. This was an especially clever return to the Buffalo stage for Gaffney, the former head of Studio Arena Theatre, in multiple roles that showcased her range—from the broadly comic to the eloquent—and her considerable stage presence.
Other holiday fare included the daft and good-hearted A Christmas Twist, a Charles Dickens parody directed by Peter Michael Marino, presented by the New Alt Performance Group, with Tim Newell as Scrooge and a crew of zanies spreading holiday cheer and laughter with a trowel. The Kavinoky brought back a show that delighted audience last year, It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, directed by Doug Zschiegner, and featuring Joseph Demerly, Eileen Dugan, Michael Hake, Phil Knoerzer, Ian Lithgow, Gerry Maher, and Debbie Pappas—playing all the characters from the beloved Frank Capra film. O’Connell & Company continued to explore its new space at ECC North with The Magic of Christmas—a game musical revue with dancers from the Clark Academy. At the Paul Robeson, it was a most agreeable Home for the Holidays. Mike Randall offered a solo performance of Charles Dickens Presents: A Christmas Carol at MusicalFare. And, of course, Alleyway Theatre presented their 27th annual incarnation of A Christmas Carol, directed by Neal Radice.
The summer season featured Shakespeare in Delaware Park productions of The Tempest and Julius Caesar, as well as some holdovers and reprises from earlier in the season—Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story at MusicalFare with Joe Wiens’ Artie turn in the title role; David Oliver giving his Artie Award winning performance in Endwords, a Samuel Beckett anthology produced by Irish Classical Theatre and Torn Space at Adam Mickiewicz Dramatic Circle; and Kurt Schneiderman’s sci-fi mind-twister, Waterboarding Blues at Subversive Theatre Collective. The summer Infringement Festival offered chances to see Bitch Bares All, written and performed by Lisa Vitrano, presented by Just Feels Good Productions and directed by Kristen Tripp Kelley; as well as Patrick Marber’s Closer, directed by Virginia Brannon; and Caryl Churchill’s Far Away, directed by Megan Callahan, starring Diane Gaidry, Justine Rodriguez, Chris Corporandy, and Marie Hasselback-Costa.
The season in progress has provided plenty of opportunities to see recent plays never before produced in Western New York, including the Kavinoky production of the madcap theatrical tour de force The 39 Steps with a first-rate cast; and BUA’s productions of Jan Buttram’s Texas Homos and Blair Fell’s The Tragic and Horrible Life of the Singing Nun, the latter starring Jimmy Janowski, Kerrykate Abel, Susana Breese, Caitlin Coleman, Sam D’Amato, Eric Rawski, and Guy Tomassi.
Subversive Theatre Collective presented Ariel Dorfman’s Widows, featuring a compelling performance by Arlene Clement. The Irish Classical Theatre presented Willy Russell’s musical Blood Brothers. O’Connell & Company went Latin with 4 Guys Named Jose and Una Mujer Named Maria, directed and choreographed by Rolando Gomez with Victoria Perez tearing up the stage. Jewish Repertory Theatre presented Christina Rausa in Martin Sherman’s Rose. The Kavinoky returned to Aaron Sorkin (author of last year’s The Farnsworth Invention) with a production of his earlier play, A Few Good Men, featuring Kate LoConti, Paschal Frisina II, and Joe Wiens. Subversive Theatre Collective featured Victoria Perez in Anna Deavere Smith’s one-woman docu-drama Twilight, directed by Virginia Brannon.
The season has seen Saul Elkin as William Shakespeare in retirement in Alleyway’s production of Jim Baines’ The Careful Glover, directed by Neal Radice with a strong cast, including Pamela Rose Mangus, David Hayes, Joyce Stilson, David Mitchell, Michael Seitz, Richard Lambert, and the delectable Katie White.
New Phoenix Theatre on the Park featured the puppets of Michele Costa in Freud and the Sandman, based on tale by Hoffmann and an original version by Freud with an original score by Paul Kozlowski, directed by Bob Waterhouse, starring Laura Bevilacqua, David Butterfield, Patrick Cain, Martha Rothkopf, and Christian Brandjes as Freud.
The Paul Robeson Theatre at the African American Cultural Center showcased fresh new talent in Revenge of a King, a variation on Hamlet conceived by Herb Newsome and music by Derrick Walker, directed by Paulette D. Harris.
The risks and thrills of live performance were evident when Topol left his farewell tour of Fiddler on the Roof and did not come to Buffalo—though audiences were delighted by the talents of John Preece as Tevye at Shea’s. The Subversive Theatre Collective production of Dario Fo’s We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay! played a single night, when an actor did not make it through the second act, obliging his fellow actors to improvise around a pivotal role. Ujima lived up to the adage “The show must go on” when an actor abandoned the production of John Belluso’s Pyretown four days before opening. They replaced him with Hugh Davis and went ahead with a credible production.
The season has seen some brand new plays, beginning with Clinton’s Ditch: The Story of the Building of the Erie Canal, an original historical outdoor drama by Anne Paris and Hugh Pratt, presented by the Erie Canal Drama Theatre, and directed by Dan Shanahan, starring Richard Lambert, Doris Boyd, G. Anton Moore, Carmen Swans, Al Parker, Kelly Beuth, and James Wild down on the Central Wharf of the Buffalo Harbor. Other new scripts included American Deal, at Road Less Traveled, a world premiere musical by Jon Elston and Tom Naples, directed by Kyle LoConti, about the Great Depression, starring Phil Knoerzer, Diane Curley, Mary McMahon, and Gordon Tashjian. Grenadine, also at Road Less Traveled, an original world premiere absurdist comedy by Neil Wechsler, was directed by Scott Behrend, with Gerry Maher, David Oliver, Jay Pichardo, Luke Wager, Peter Jaskowiak, Bonnie Jean Taylor, Lisa Vitrano, and Chris Corporandy. Left Holding the Mop, a world premiere comedy at Alleyway by California-based Bradford Willis and Anne Dunkin, explored the state of American public education, and was directed by Neal Radice, starring Laura Bevilacqua, Jeffrey Coyle, Kate Olena, Jasmine Ramos, Carlton Franklin, and Michael Seitz. Sweet Street: A Musical Intersection of Leonard Cohen and Milton Rogovin melded the Canadian songwriter and Buffalonian photographer in a show that delighted audiences. BUA presented the world premiere of The Pipes Are Calling: An Elegy to Dan Higgins, Sr., written and performed by Matthew Crehan Higgins, directed by Javier Bustillos. Alleyway saw Stephanie Bax in 24 With Maggie, world premiere of one-act comedies by Beth Geyer presented by Theatre Plus and directed by Thomas Dooney, with Christopher S. Parada, Kelly Beuth, Bethany Sparacio, Mike Starzynski.
Some tried and true scripts made strong returns. American Repertory Theater of WNY featured the clowning talents of Thomas LaChiusa and Chris Standart in the Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard comedy Greater Tuna, under the direction of Tom Dooney at Alleyway’s Main Street Cabaret. MusicalFare presented Randall Kramer and Jeffrey Rockwell in 2 Pianos 4 Hands, about two boys growing up playing the pianos. MusicalFare also produced the Broadway classic Man of La Mancha, but with a twist—the actors played the musical instruments. John Fredo was Don Quixote; Lisa Ludwig was Aldonza. ALT Theatre revisited The Rocky Horror Show directed by Drew McCabe, starring Jeffrey Coyle as hedonistic Frank’n’furter.
Classic plays seen this season include Euripides’ Electra, presented by the ALT Theatre, directed by Drew McCabe, starring Candice Kogut; and Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape, presented by Subversive Theatre, as part of the Buffalo Infringement Festival, directed by Kurt Schneiderman and staged in a carnival setting.
Theater of Youth presented Junie B. Jones & A Little Monkey Business, based on the books by Barbara Park, directed by Michael Walline, with Kelly Cammarata, Katima Gomillion, James Heffron, Kevin Kennedy, Leah Russo, and Nicole Cimato.
We also saw companies return to hits from their pasts. Ujima presented Megan Terry’s Do You See What I’m Saying about homeless women, featuring remarkable performances by company regulars Beverly Dove, June Duell, and Michele Ninacs. BUA returned to Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing in which gay working-class teens find first love—this time with Adam Rath, Gordon Tashjian, Darryl Hart, Amy Jakiel, and Lisa Ludwig. The Irish Classical Theatre Company scored a hit again with a stunning revival of Frank McGuinness’ story of hostages in the Middle East, Someone to Watch Over Me, directed by Greg Natale and starring Vincent O’Neill, Lou Colaiacovo, and Dan Walker.
BUA, in their own theater again, made good use of the space with staged readings of Nilo Cruz’s Anna in the Tropics and Clare Booth Luce’s The Women, and the sequel The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later (simultaneous to over a hundred theaters across the country). They also revived cabaret with a series produced by chanteuse Kerrykate Able, starting with Marc With a C, featuring Marc Sacco and Chuck Basil, followed by Mommy’s Martini Hour! starring Basil with the formidable talents of Kerrykate Abel and Loraine O’Donnell.
Kaleidoscope Theatre Productions regrouped from their Canisius eviction, opening a new theater space at Medaille College in the Lecture Hall building with a production of Paul Rudnick’s I Hate Hamlet, directed by Jeanne Cairns, starring Thomas LaChiusa and Keith Wharton.
Shakespeare in Delaware Park celebrated its history with a one-night performance of A Memoir: 34 years of Shakespeare in Delaware Park with Saul Elkin, staged at the Buffalo Seminary—the monologue was one of the most popular Artvoice video downloads of the season!
As we enter the new year, the theater season that goes almost dormant during Christmas week will begin to gear up again. We can anticipate that some of the best theatrical experiences of the 2009-2010 theater season are yet to come.
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