BY ANTHONY CHASE
From time to time a theater will ask me to recommend an actor for a particular role. When my own husband, Javier Bustillos, asked me if one of my own Buffalo State students would be appropriate for BUA’s upcoming production of Mark Gerrard’s off-Broadway hit, “Steve,” I instantly knew which role he had in mind.
This month, BUA celebrates its 25th year of producing theater for and about the LGBT community. As is appropriate for a 25-year-old theater, “Steve” is about a group of middle-aged friends who, as Ben Brantley of the New York Times observed, “are finally starting to realize that the party may be over — really over — and that their sexual attractiveness is fast approaching its sell-by date.”
After 25 years, BUA could cast the middle-aged friends, three times over. What they needed was a fresh face to play the young and distractingly attractive Argentine waiter, Esteban.
I took Javier to see the Buffalo State production of “Hedda Gabler,” and as I expected, the good looks and confident stage presence of the young actor playing Eilert Lovborg, the man with a troubled past, caught his eye.
With “Hedda Gabler” as his audition, young Zachary Bellus – still in college — was offered the role.
Esteban enters the world of the play as a decided complication. Brantley’s assessment of “Steve” as a play that “holds up a clear but compassionate mirror to anyone who’s been part of a post-passion long-term relationship and started to dissect the moral obligations of monogamy,” gives you the approximate idea.
The title character, played by Eric Rawski, describes the landscape of the play as “Four middle-aged men, and our occasional lady visitor, interested in the slightest recognition that we’re still sexually desirable to the sexually desirable — or even to the almost sexually desirable — secretly afraid that we’re not, but bravely clinging to the illusion — and each other — like a jaunty gay raft of the Medusa.”
The trials of the “occasional lady visitor,” Carrie, played by BUA founding member and go-to “best-friend,” “leading lady,” and “mother figure,” Caitlin Coleman, serves to remind the group that every old gang eventually breaks up. If infidelity and betrayal don’t get you, then mortality will.
Along the way, of course, we laugh, and that is how BUA has chosen to celebrate its banner 25th anniversary year. The production is directed by Jessica Rasp. In addition to Bellus, Coleman, and Rawski, the cast features Timothy Patrick Finnegan, David Granville, and Michael Seitz.
“Steve” opens on Friday, and plays on Fridays and Saturdays through February 11 at the Alleyway Theatre.
The billing for the actor playing Esteban is “Introducing Zachary Bellus.” And so, in an effort to introduce Zachary Bellus to our readers, Artvoice asked him a few questions.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
“Buffalo, New York. Born and bred in the Elmwood Village.
HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED IN THEATER?
I joined theater on a hunch that I could do it. I was a double major at UB with my sights set on a Ph.D. in psychology. After a few years of study, I realized becoming a clinician wasn’t for me, but my love for discovering what makes a person tick, what defines them as themselves, continued to drive me. Acting provided a fun and challenging opportunity to do just that. Then it became love at first performance and I’m not looking back.
WHO IS YOUR CHARACTER IN STEVE AND HOW DOES HE FIT INTO THE PLOT?
I play Esteban, an Argentine dancing student with a knack for showing up at all the wrong times. Or at all the right times, depending on how you feel about casual hook ups. Esteban is full of life, embodies the idea of living in the moment, and does not take life too seriously. That philosophy leads him into a bit of fun and into a bit of trouble, as our protagonist Steven learns when their connection grows. Now where does that lead? Come join us at the Alleyway Theatre to find out!
WHAT HAS BEEN THE GREATEST CHALLENGE OF THE ROLE?
The greatest challenge is living in the accent. Argentines have a distinct and recognizable accent. It’s beautiful and musical, but a bit difficult to pin down.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE ROLES TO DATE?
While my time in theater only spans two years, I’ve been honored to play some great parts. My favorite to date has to be Jackie from The Motherf**ker with the Hat at Buffalo State College. Stephen Adly Guirgis’ words made my first lead role a juicy one, with director Aaron Moss’ vision providing me huge canvas to explore Jackie to his fullest. In complete contrast, my next favorite role has to be Gary Lejune in Noises Off. Playing in a farce was so much fun, as my cast mates and I ran around our beautiful set, sardines in hand. Gary was a ridiculous combination of attributes resulting in an angry pretty boy with mommy issues, but the joy of the production truly came from working with such a talented group of young actors. And after climbing 22 sets of stairs per show, I got the benefit of being in great shape at the end.
WHAT ARE YOUR ASPIRATIONS IN THE THEATER?
I came into this field hoping to make it onto the screen, no matter the size, but after performing live, I cannot imagine leaving live theater. I hope to move to Chicago in the near future to pursue improvisational comedy, and to build my professional resume. My dream is to perform in the National Theatre in London one day.