Looking at WNY’s visual art, theater, music, and dance scenes.
Mar 22, 2012
06:57 AMTalk about Arts
Spree Theater Review with Darwin McPherson: Secrets of the Trade
One of the most disappointing things about the NBC drama Smash, which purports to tell the behind-the-scenes story of the development of a Broadway musical, is that it quickly resorted to cheap soap opera clichés and characters to illustrate its complex world. As those of us who work even on the fringes of the theater know, there are all types of characters in it, but very few of them are as petty and small-minded as those on that televised representation.
That’s why I really enjoyed Secrets of the Trade, now playing at Buffalo United Artists. Though Jonathan Tolins’ script is supposed to be a comedy (and there are indeed many witty moments within), it is a very dramatic presentation of “life in the theater” from the perspective of those in it, and those who want to be.
Set in the 1980s, Secrets of the Trade starts with sixteen year-old Andrew Lipman and his dream of having a career in the theater. Encouraged by his parents, he writes a fan letter/not-so-subtle employment solicitation to legendary director Martin Kerner. The theater icon replies—two years later—and thus begins a relationship that fosters Andy’s development far beyond his vocational potential.
This is what sets Secrets of the Trade apart from Smash. On Smash, everyone’s motives are crystal clear and their life paths are painfully predictable. Not so much in Secrets, where you may think you know what’s going on with Kerner, Andy’s parents, and Andy himself, but really, there’s a lot more to it.
While I do commend Smash for having a number of gay characters who move along as natural parts of the landscape, I have to give Secrets extra credit for underplaying its gay themes until it becomes, in actuality, one of the best gay pride presentations on stage in my memory. Usually, BUA plays are, almost by nature, very gay-motivated and homosexually aware in their subject matter and/or tone. Though Tolins is a playwright who very often presents gay themed work, Secrets of the Trade goes beyond that angle while simultaneously embracing it.
The success of this is in no small part due to the quality of the cast and direction. Jimmy Janowski is terrific as the suspiciously gay Kerner, who mentors Andy in the “secrets of the trade.” Young Jonathan Young, who has a lot of stage time, is especially exceptional, playing a young Jewish kid who grows up in many ways over the course of ten years. Definitely one to watch. Lisa Ludwig and David Granville, as Andy’s parents, are also notable in their primary roles as well as a few ancillary characters.
Director Drew McCabe keeps Secrets of the Trade moving well within the intentionally limited confines of the BUA space. No flash, no fireworks--just an immensely fun show that tells secrets and touches hearts with a depth and sincerity rarely captured about life on and around the boards.
Unfortunately, Smash doesn’t respect the potential of the characters and the intelligence of the audience like this play does.
But at least the singing is pretty good.
Secrets of the Trade continues through April 7 at The BUA Theater at 119 Chippewa Street, between Delaware and Elmwood, in Buffalo. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm. No performance on March 31, additional performance on Sunday, April 1 at 7 pm. For tickets, call 716-886-9239.