Theater: Springing awake
Cory English, Joanna Glushak, Preston Truman Boyd, Synthia Link, Christopher Ryan, and company in "Young Frankenstein" at Shea’s.
From Broadway to CFA
One of the productions I am most eagerly anticipating this season is the national tour of Spring Awakening, which hits Buffalo this month. Featuring music by Duncan Sheik (of hit single “Barely Breathing” fame) and a book and lyrics by Steven Sater, Spring Awakening is a coming-of-age story set in Germany during the late 1800s. Based on the controversial play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, it explores how a group of adolescents cope (or don’t cope) with their burgeoning sexual awareness.
After a much-lauded and award-filled run on Broadway, one might expect to see the show at Shea’s. But actually, you’ll find it at UB’s Center for the Arts.
“We often present performances new to WNY, so the opportunity to host the local premiere of this groundbreaking show’s national tour was certainly appealing,” says Tom Burrows, executive director of the CFA. “Furthermore, we felt the coming of age message would resonate particularly well with students at the university as well as anyone who recalls the challenges of the teen years.”
Despite its historic setting, the musical is thoroughly contemporary with rock and pop inspirations. Cleverly expressing the characters’ subconscious feelings, the music’s anachronistic tone works surprisingly well.
Songs like “The Bitch of Living,” “My Junk,” “Touch Me,” and “The Word of Your Body” are as plaintive as they are provocative. The haunting, melancholy score is in perfect sync with the storytelling, and it’s probably the best use of modern music in a stage musical since Jonathan Larson’s Rent.
Simply put, don’t miss Spring Awakening on Thursday, March 31, at the Center for the Arts (800-745-3000).
Rock ’n’ Roll
The Kavinoky Theatre tackles socio-historical issues with Rock ’n’ Roll by Tom Stoppard. Its plot arc “focuses on how the counterculture of the 1960s gave way to political upheaval and the fall of Communism in Europe in the 1990s, but the soul of the play is very human,” says Doug Zschiegner, Kavinoky associate director. “We follow classic clashes between generations, dangerous pressure from totalitarian governments, and several completely original love stories; one that ends with one of the most unique love scenes I’ve seen. It’s only eleven lines long.”
Kavinoky artistic director David Lamb says even though Rock ’n’ Roll is “so well written and intrinsically theatrical,” Stoppard’s most recent play is also “by far the most difficult play being produced in town this season.”
“It’s such a perfect time in this country—and even in this city—to look at the best ways we can change society,” Zschiegner adds. “What’s the most effective method to impact the world around us? Do we stalwartly stand by traditional ideals? Do we become activists in grassroots movements? Do we take the counterculture approach and create art that speaks for itself? In this play, that art is rock music.
“Each character in Rock ‘n’ Roll takes another tactic and that means they usually conflict with each other,” he continues. “In the second act, there’s an incredible dinner party with eight characters making the case why their approach to changing the world is best. We all find our own views up there somewhere.”
Zschiegner and Kavinoky resident sound designer Tom Makar are working with video designer Brian Milbrand (ICTC’s The Cant) to visualize the music of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, U2, and underground Czech bands, among others, using “all sorts of literal and abstract images and archival footage.”
Featured roles are played by David Lamb, Ian Lithgow, and Josie DiVincenzo. Directed by Zschiegner, the Western New York premiere of Rock ’n’ Roll opens on March 4 at the Kavinoky (829-7668).
Another esteemed play making its local premiere is Screen Play by famed playwright and Buffalo native A. R. Gurney. This production is the second show in Road Less Traveled Productions’ Gurney retrospective, following last season’s A Light Lunch.
Screen Play is “the Casablanca story set in a futuristic Buffalo where liberals are trying to flee across the border into Canada from a conservative-dominated U.S. It has a cast of characters pulled from the film, but put into Gurney’s own political shakedown,” says Scott Behrend, RLTP artistic director. “Since it’s set in a future Buffalo, we hope people will enjoy the relevance and the geographic references.”
Behrend, who is directing the production, finds Screen Play to be “a funny political romp” like A Light Lunch, which also featured actor David Hayes. Other cast members include Jay Pichardo, Natalie Mack, Bob Grabowski, Jermain Cooper, Carlton Franklin, and Jonathan Shuey. The director’s biggest challenge is the nature of Gurney’s script, which is written “like a screenplay. It’s almost like a staged reading so that it can encompass the breadth of a story like Casablanca. It’s going to be fun!”
Screen Play runs March 4–27 at the Road Less Traveled Theater in the Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre in Buffalo (800-745-3000).
At first glance, The Mandrake appears to be a romantic farce not unlike previous ICTC productions The Servant of Two Masters and Charley’s Aunt. However, Niccolò Machiavelli’s comedy has its murky depths.
“What is interesting and fascinating is how Machiavelli, through his character portraits, captures the audience with the play’s delightful and romantic mirth—but as it relishes its enjoyment, it may be also somewhat unsettled by the incongruity and grotesque nature of the planned scenario that will lead to Nicia’s cuckolding,” says Fortunato Pezzimenti, ICTC producing director. “We in the audience are challenged to question ourselves. Do we have the same capacity and blindness to talk ourselves into moral compromises?”
Pezzimenti sees the play as “a jubilant and unrestrained celebration of life in all its facets. The freshness, freedom, and sensuality of the Italian Renaissance with the accompanying compelling spiritual and social malaise just lying beneath the surface.”
Translated by Peter Constantine, The Mandrake features David Autovino as Callimaco with Gerry Maher, Peter Palmisano, Brian Riggs, Lisa Vitrano, and Tim Newell. It runs March 3–27 at the Andrews Theatre (853-ICTC (4282)).
On the surface, Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts is “a comedy about a forty-five-year-old atheist and a thirty-year-old fundamentalist Christian who fall in love,” says Buffalo United Artists executive director Javier Bustillos. “But Next Fall shows us a whole world of mismatched characters and what happens when the younger man is hit by a car and falls into a coma. The play goes back and forth between scenes in the waiting room of a New York City hospital and flashbacks about the relationship between the two men.
“Before it’s over, and without the audience even realizing it, we are taking on some of life’s biggest questions like ‘What is faith?’”
As always, BUA is taking a minimalist approach and Bustillos’s direction concentrates on the acting. Actor Darryl Hart (“Rod Serling” in ART of WNY’s Twilight Zone Redux) is one of the stars along with Dan Walker and Mary Moebius, who play the younger man’s ultraconservative parents, who, as the play begins, haven’t been told he’s gay.
The Tony nominated Next Fall springs up at the Buffalo United Artists Theater on Chippewa on March 11 (886-9239).
This is the twentieth season of Buffalo Quickies, the Alleyway’s annual production of short plays. Over the years, almost 200 one-acts have been produced in the series, according to Alleyway public relations director and literary manager Joyce Stilson, who has directed over 140 of them.
One of the pieces Stilson is directing this year is Game Day by Steve Gutierrez. “Two men grapple with their place in our ever-changing idea of what America is and how to protect our border from ‘them,’” she tells.
Buffalo Quickies play March 3–19 at the Alleyway Theatre (852-2600).
There’s lots of activity at the Torn Space Theater on Fillmore. Directed by Vincent O’Neill in association with ICTC, Steven Berkoff’s adaptation of Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher closes on March 6. On March 17, Aunt Dan and Lemon opens, directed by David Oliver (812-5733).
From March 22–27, Shea’s hosts Young Frankenstein (another of my top ten picks). The team that brought The Producers to theatrical life (writers Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan with director and choreographer Susan Stroman) work their magic on another of Brooks’ cinematic classics. (800-745-3000).
Darwin McPherson is theater previewer for Buffalo Spree.