Onstage / Frank talk about Buffalo theater trends
More comedies and NMNI needed
MURDER FOR TWO at MusicalFare featuring Joe Donahue and Phil Farugia
Given that August is the slowest month of the year for theater, but one that ushers in the new season that begins in September, Spree writers and Artie Committee members Donna Hoke and Kathleen Rizzo Young thought it might be a good time to assess the past and coming seasons and figure out where our community is trending for the good—and the not so good.
Kathleen Rizzo Young and Donna Hoke
PHotos by kc kratt
KRY: It’s funny, everyone went on about how this was such a stellar season, but, with a few exceptions, I felt last season was stronger. The Arties reflected that as there were about a dozen outstanding productions garnering over half of the nominations.
DH: That’s true. Eleven productions got half the nominations, sixty out of 120.
KRY: That said, there are satisfying aspects of the season. Some actors like Adam Yellen and Alex Watts seem to work a lot because they are reliably good and always add something interesting to a production. I also appreciated seeing actors who have been impressing for years in ensembles getting tapped to play lead roles—Kevin Kennedy in Speed-the-Plow at Road Less Traveled and Bethany Burrows in After the Fall from Post-Industrial Productions/Subversive.
DH: Absolutely! The Best Actor category was so strong this year. Of course, that just underscores how many more men there are in every category. That’s a consistent problem, and I’m hoping the increase in women at the helm will do some work to rectify this.
KRY: Yes—this is Loraine O’Donnell’s first season that she is developing as artistic director at Kavinoky and she is committed to telling stories by and about women.
DH: She has two shows created by women—Bridges of Madison County and Indecent—and one with a lead female character, Hairspray. After countless seasons of all male playwrights and mostly male leads, that’s long overdue.
KRY: Victoria Perez at Raíces has done this consistently from the start; we got a glimpse at the Arties with Melinda Capeles’ incredible high-octane, kicking-off-her-shoes number from La Lupe. And I love the idea of Kavinoky and Jewish Repertory Theatre partnering on Indecent next season and would love to see more of that.
DH: As much as I love a big cast, the intimate cast shows that balance them are often strong because you can cast a few good people who kill it. Annapurna with two and Speed-the-Plow with three were excellent.
KRY: Yes, two of my favorite shows last season actually had the smallest casts: Jimmy Janowski in Buffalo United Artist’s The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey and Joe Donahue and Phil Farugia in Murder for Two at MusicalFare. Sometimes less is truly more. Which brings us to one of our favorite trends that we hope to see more of next year: NMNI (Ninety-Minute-No-Intermission)! It’s not just because some productions seem overly long. There are times when the intermission seems intrusive—some theaters even add intermissions to shows that traditionally do not have them.
DH: But putting an intermission in an intended NMNI feels wrong. The narrative wasn’t meant to be interrupted, but some theaters rely on concessions.
KRY: You needed a pause for a drink with the number of dark shows in 2018–19. It would be great to see more nonmusical comedies. Jay Desiderio deserved the Career Achievement Artie this year for almost single-handedly keeping the comedy alive in Buffalo theater! What about the classic American comedies? I feel like audiences love them. Is that what you see in the world of new plays?
DH: Definitely. We talk about it a lot. Good comedies always sell, but it’s a tough path to get them attention because contests tend to favor “issue” plays, which creates a disconnect between what wins prizes and what theaters are actually looking for. The hybrid—comedy with a message—seems to be the workaround, but it’s tough.
KRY: What would you like to see more of 19–20? Or are the theaters actually casting 20–21 now?
DH: You know me: I always want the new work that been written for our time and place. I’d always rather see something new than a revival.
KRY: With resident playwrights at Alleyway and Road Less Traveled, maybe that will increase the new work and risk-taking.
DH: It should. Alleyway has always done brand new plays, but I like the idea of developing new work in residence. That way, the theater has a hand in making it something they’re excited to take a risk on. Alleyway also has a playwright unit and American Repertory Theater of Western New York is also starting one with the intent to produce new works.
KRY: Next season started with a bang with MusicalFaire’s Fun Home and Ujima’s re-entry into the community, Passing Strange.
DH: And Second Generation’s Nine, too! Already, the best musical category is shaping up to be a tough one. Though I have to say, I wasn’t happy at all with Alleyway’s first new play of the season, Girls Who Walked on Glass. I found it the perfect example of my earlier complaint about male dominance; this was a story about traumatized women told entirely through a male lens. It made me angry, and not in the good way theater should. In this current theater climate, it was wrong on so many levels.
KRY: Because it is a work in development, they handed out a survey after the show, which allowed audience members to share their thoughts. It will be interesting to see if the play changes as a result of the feedback. On a happier note, I’m looking forward to Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time from All for One, who did Three Musketeers last year.
DH: Everybody knows Curious Dog; it has a Broadway history, book clubs will flock to it. I’m really looking forward to all the contemporary work at Road Less Traveled, including several plays I’ve never seen. Kavinoky is bringing in a lot of recent Broadway, which isn’t new to me, but I get a thrill seeing our local talent interpret it.
KRY: All in all, it looks like another exciting season is upon us. For a city of our size to present over seventy shows produced by more than twenty theaters is truly amazing!
DH: See you at the theater!