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Onstage: Outside the law

Clockwise from top left: Holly Johnson, Brian Milbrand, Elizabeth Knipe, Ron Ehmke, and Jim Carocci

John Carocci

Western New York is learning rapidly that theater is not just about drawing room drama or gleeful musical productions. Beyond the realm of traditional stagecraft, there’s a place for a unique brand of creative expression and artistic license. Leading that charge is the incredibly popular Torn Space Theater, which is currently collaborating with the experimental performance group Real Dream Cabaret on The Outlaw Show, a new, original work that explores the concept of “outlaws” throughout history and society.

“The show is set, at least at first, in the Limbo Lounge, a Prohibition-era speakeasy, which serves as a kind of holding station for outlaws from every era of human history—past, present, and future. There, they stage a talent show, which contains all manner of songs, sketches, and other acts,” says Real Dream cofounder Brian Milbrand. “Over time, since they are outlaws, these characters grow unhappy with this routine, and, in a manner of speaking, all hell breaks loose. The show also follows our antiheroes as they explore the ‘real’ world (of Buffalo, N.Y.) outside Limbo.”

The “immense” cast of characters, Milbrand notes, includes troublemakers, scoundrels, outcasts, and ne’er-do-wells from history (Bonnie and Clyde, Timothy Leary, Joan of Arc, Lizzie Borden, the Founding Fathers, and so on), pop culture, mythology, and Buffalo’s own storied past. Some are indeed criminals while others are merely people working outside the mainstream.

“The question—how do you define an ‘outlaw’ and what do we think of them?—is at the very heart of the show,” suggests RDC cofounder Ron Ehmke and Spree associate editor. “We don’t have any easy answers; some outlaws are tremendous forces for social change, and others are just obnoxious, if not outright sociopaths. And depending on who’s making the laws, we’re all actual or potential outlaws, aren’t we?”

“I think if we’ve learned anything working on this show, it’s that we have to continually ask ourselves these kinds of questions, as individuals and as a society,” adds Holly Johnson, another RDC core member. “Are law and morality the same things? What do you do if you feel that a law is immoral? Is the moral thing then to break it? And if you’re going to step outside the law, how far is too far?

“As part of our ‘research,’ we formed an Outlaw Movie Club,” she continues, “and one of the things we realized right away is that all stories, because they involve some kind of conflict, are really outlaw shows at heart. So the outlaw figure is always with us, for better and worse.”

As a Torn Space collaboration, The Outlaw Show differs from typical Real Dream Cabaret productions (if there is a “typical” one) in that “there’s more theatricality in this show,” Milbrand says.

“We’ve always relied heavily on improvisation, although the longer we work together the more interested we’ve become in telling more complicated stories, rather than presenting a series of loosely connected sketches as we did seven or eight years ago,” Ehmke adds.

Like almost all Real Dream Cabaret shows, The Outlaw Show is collectively written, performed, and directed by the RDC ensemble. This time, for the first time, two director friends, Sarah Bay-Cheng (who directed WoyUbu, RDC’s 2009 collaboration with the Intermedia Performance Studio) and Dan Shanahan (artistic director of Torn Space), serve as advisors during the rehearsal process.

The cast includes RDC vets Theresa Baker, John Carocci, Ehmke, Johnson, Liz Knipe, Milbrand, and Kim Young-Mason, along with several guest artists (both live and onscreen) and an “outlaw of the week” drawn from the headlines of twenty-first century Buffalo. David Kane is composing and performing the music.

“Because this particular show concerns the very nature of what it is to be an outlaw in ‘polite’ society, some of what we’ll be exploring includes images and behaviors that are often considered shocking, offensive, or taboo,” Milbrand notes, so no one under eighteen will be admitted.

The Outlaw Show continues through December 11 at the Adam Mickiewicz Dramatic Circle, 612 Fillmore Avenue, in Buffalo (716-812-5733).


The Addams Family

While not quite outlaws, cartoonist Charles Addams’s famed macabre kinfolk are certainly outcasts. The Jersey Boys team of authors, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and choreographer Sergio Trujillo, have joined forces with composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa, director/designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, and creative consultant Jerry Zaks to create The Addams Family, a new musical comedy about the mysterious and spooky clan.
The Addams Family has been a fan favorite since opening in April 2010. Inspired by Addams’s drawings (not the mid-60s television show or relatively recent films), the plot features a visit by daughter Wednesday’s new “normal” boyfriend and his family to the Addams home. The Tony-nominated score features popular songs “When You’re an Addams” and “Pulled.”

This may be your best chance to catch this musical. The current Broadway production, with Brooke Shields and Roger Rees as Morticia and Gomez, is scheduled to close at the end of the year. The touring production plays at Shea’s Performing Arts Center from December 6 through 11 (800-745-3000).


Also playing

Obviously, lots of holiday shows are on stage at your favorite theaters, many of which are making return engagements. One premiere for the season is Theatre of Youth’s Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, running December 2-17. Julie Schillaci stars as Junie (replacing the previous Junie, Leah Russo, who has relocated to California) in this second show adapted from the Junie B. Jones book series.

Director Meg Quinn and company are sure to delight the kids and provide fun holiday memories for the whole family (716-884-4400). 




Spree theater previewer Darwin McPherson invites readers to watch his theater segments every Thursday morning at 6 a.m. on Eyewitness News This Morning on Ch. 7.

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