Onstage: Singular sensations
The new year starts right as WNY’s finest take the stages in various ways.
Back when I was still writing theater reviews, one of my favorite appraisals was for the 2001 Buffalo United Artists production of Avow by Bill C. Davis, directed by Kelli Bocock-Natale. The play told the stories of Brian and Tom, a gay couple who want to be married by the Catholic Church. Though Father Raymond is progressive and sympathetic, he will not defy church law to grant their wish. Tom is then forced to reconsider how he can reconcile his faith with his sexual orientation. Complicating matters further, Father Ray has his own emotional quandary as he finds himself attracted to Brian’s wayward sister. This month, Bocock-Natale is helming the show once again with a revised script.
“Bill C. Davis emailed us telling me that he had revised his play and wondered if I would like to read it,” says BUA executive director Javier Bustillos. “He remembered we had done his play back in 2001, when he was very impressed by the image we were using in our posters. When I read it, I was surprised as to how current it still is and how much tighter the writing got.”
“When Javier forwarded me the script, I reread it and agreed with him that the subject matter is even more relevant today,” Bocock-Natale says. “The script is so well-written. I loved directing it last time, but I always felt I could look a little harder at the two partners. I really want to tell their story—the questions they are both asking themselves and how one comes to realize the true definition of marriage—the vow they must honor.”
My review appreciated how the play didn’t demonize its figures. Instead, it presented the conflict of passion and choice with clarity and dignity. It’s hard to imagine the script could be improved, though the revisions are merely “a matter of flow and clearer intentions,” Bustillos notes. “It just made sense to revisit this, especially [since] we would be the first company given the opportunity to present this new version. The challenge is to make it totally different, keeping its original message. I think we had a brilliant production the first time around. We are not going to try to [simply] duplicate it. The message is as—or more—[relevant] now than it was years ago.”
Starring Michael Seitz as Father Raymond, Kevin Keleher, Danny Beason, and Joe Natale (returning to his role as the older priest), Avow opens January 20. (886-9239)
Even though Brendan Behan is one of the better-known Irish writers, Irish Classical Theatre Company has never done one of his plays—until now, with The Hostage.
Originally written in Gaelic, The Hostage was translated by Behan and transformed into a play with songs and both tragic and comic elements. Set in a Dublin bordello during Ireland’s conflicted 1950s, a young British soldier is held hostage as his captors await word of the planned execution of a captured IRA member in Belfast. In the midst of these hostilities, the hostage and a young girl who lives at the brothel fall in love.
“To me, the play is about a young man and woman, who are technically—by location of birth—on the opposite sides of a political, and subsequently, military struggle,” says director Greg Natale. “The universality of this young couple transcends the specifics of the Irish versus English ‘troubles.’”
ICTC artistic director Vincent O’Neill says he selected Natale because he is “one of those people who does musicals and straight plays with equal ease.” That’s especially important for The Hostage because “it’s quite a demanding script. It seems loose on the face of it, but it’s a hybrid of acting and musical theater.”
That’s part of the play’s “charm and genius,” Natale says. “Though not a musical, there is plenty of music and dance, enough to keep the viewer off balance as to what is real and what is not. To my way of thinking, the things that make warring parties the same far exceeds that which makes them different. Behan shines a light on this universal truth about mankind.”
Audiences shouldn’t worry about being alienated by The Hostage’s potentially heavy political overtones. Natale is thinning out much of the “voluminous political dialogue” and O’Neill feels that with the hostilities between Irish and English now in the past, the satirical nature of The Hostage’s approach can be more easily appreciated. “It’s a beautiful Irish stew,” O’Neill says. “I think it’ll have huge appeal because there’s so much comedy and dance, and a love story. It’s a romp.”
The Hostage’s impressive cast includes Tom Zindle, Tom Loughlin, Lisa Ludwig, and Joshua Radford and Bethany Sparacio as the young lovers. The Hostage opens on January 11 at the Andrews Theatre. (853-5282)
A Chorus Line
For the last couple of years, Red Carpet Theater Productions has done an impressive job bringing high caliber presentations to the Lancaster Opera House. Their production of The Fantasticks (featuring John Fredo) was, well, fantastic, and they offered a memorable Tuesdays with Morrie. This month, they are raising the stakes even higher with one singular sensation: A Chorus Line.
According to Red Carpet executive producer John P. Pirrone, A Chorus Line was chosen to “spotlight the incredible dramatic talent in Western New York on multiple levels.” Along with showcasing local singer-actor-dancers, they are paying tribute to Buffalo’s Michael Bennett, who originally conceived, directed, and choreographed the musical. “No one can argue with the idea that A Chorus Line is simply a great show,” Pirrone says.
Though he feels that A Chorus Line is a perfect fit for the Lancaster Opera House, Pirrone knew that “bringing a dancing show of this kind would be a challenge.” The stage at the Lancaster Opera House is raked (at an angle), as opposed to the audience being seated in an angled auditorium. To overcome this handicap, the Red Carpet production team selected performers familiar with the Opera House stage.
“Our production will be faithful to the roots of the show and will look as the original production did in 1975,” Pirrone says. Therefore, his team spent countless hours conducting their own chorus line to select triple-threat candidates “with the potential to have a 1970s look.” The cast includes Equity actor Patrick Pettys and Artie Award winner Sara Marioles.
Opening January 20, A Chorus Line is directed by Dawn Smith-DeLuca, with musical direction by Linda Appleby and choreography by Stacy Zawadzki-Janusz. (683-1776)
It wouldn’t be a Buffalo theater season without an A. R. Gurney play. This month, the Kavinoky does the honors with Black Tie, one of his most recent works. Gurney returns to familiar territory as a WASPish family prepares for a wedding and controversy erupts over the father’s decision to wear his late father’s tuxedo. Of course, this being a Gurney comedy, other issues of class and social status come into play over the course of the evening.
“Black Tie, light and funny as it is, explores, at its heart, the relationship between fathers and sons—most pointedly, the issue of legacy,” says director Chris Kelly. “What is there from generation to generation that it is important to preserve, and where must we evolve with the times? Without giving too much away, it is also terribly sweet, funny, and a bit of a ghost story.”
Kelly, who recently directed Oliver for MusicalFare and The Divine Sister for Buffalo United Artists, was lucky enough to acquire a stellar cast for the show. Peter Palmisano and Josephine Hogan are the parents, Saul Elkin is the grandfather, and Patrick Moltane and Morgan Chard are the children. Kelly feels that style is very important to the play “as it is a piece about a certain class of people. … Getting everyone on board with that is very important. Much of the work is done with casting, and we have an incredible one, so I am really delighted to [work] with them.”
The Kavinoky is putting on its Black Tie from January 6 to 29. (829-7668)
Loraine O’Donnell’s Facebook friends have been following the local diva’s weight loss chronicles for her lead role in Alt Theatre’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch. See her amazing transformation in the rock-and-roll musical from January 5 to 28. (868-6847)
Spree theater previewer Darwin McPherson invites readers to watch his segments every Thursday morning at 6 a.m. on Eyewitness News This Morning on Channel 7.