Onstage: War-torn tales
While we all want to give peace a chance, the best drama always lies in conflict. That’s especially true on local stages this month.
Time Stands Still
Even though Donald Margulies’s Time Stands Still is “not an Iraq War play,” according to Robert Waterhouse, who is directing it at the Kavinoky, it’s no surprise the recently ended occupation is serving as a backdrop for exploring wartime issues and relationships. “Though not a play about the ghosts of the past, or war, or journalism, or the responsibility,” explains Waterhouse, “the play riddles the present lives of four all-too-human characters with questions about all of these things as the four confront—or avoid—the conflicting pressures of domesticity, parenthood, and the pull of journalism in places savaged by war and atrocity.”
“The attraction of the play for me was not so much what it is about,” says Kavinoky artistic director David Lamb, “but rather how it is about it. There are four great parts for actors—very funny, very actable—with a wide range of feeling. Margulies’s dialogue is a tribute to the ear of reality.”
The play stars Kristen Tripp Kelley as Sarah, a photojournalist who has made her career photographing shattered lives in wartime places. After being wounded in Iraq (in an attack that also killed her escort), she returns to the U.S. with James (Guy Balotine), a writer who has suffered “shell shock.”
“When we meet them, the two are now confronting domesticity with the help—or hindrance—of their editor, Richard [Peter Palmisano] and his pert new girlfriend, Mandy [Christina Golab],” Waterhouse says. “The play’s surprises, and comedy, are rooted in these deeply human conflicts, for which the stakes become higher when Sarah announces her intention of returning to photograph the ongoing war as soon as possible.”
“This is a play dealing with journalists, so I asked a journalist’s son to direct it,” Lamb says. (Keith Waterhouse, noted British columnist, playwright, and novelist, was Robert’s father.) Waterhouse says he was drawn by the depth of the characters “and the all-too-human way they dance around their responsibilities to one another and to their work, while also raising larger, more troubling questions about the viewer’s responses to war in photography.”
Time Stands Still runs March 2 to 25 at the Kavinoky Theatre. (716-829-7668.)
Emperor and Galilean
Henrik Ibsen’s tragedy Emperor and Galilean is truly an epic. Translated into English, the original text is more than seven hours long and features about 100 characters. While Torn Space Theater has never shied from doing unconventional work, this would be an unfathomable challenge even for WNY’s leading alternative theater. Luckily, they’re working with playwright Neil Wechsler. The author of Grenadine, which won the 2008 Yale Drama series playwriting prize, Wechsler is adapting the play into a more manageable form with permission from translator Brian Johnston.
“Ibsen wrote it as mental theater, to be read, not staged,” Wechsler says. “I removed certain subplots and peripheral characters, but mostly my approach was to tighten what was there, to trim as much as possible within scenes and within the lines themselves. I reduced the run-time to about two and a half hours and the cast to twelve by having most of the actors play multiple roles. I wanted the actor-tracks to be either consistent character-types or to resonate somehow with the overall structure, so that the doubling would heighten the themes in the play.”
In Emperor and Galilean, “the tides of history irrevocably shift when Julian, the impassioned pagan Emperor of Rome, attempts to thwart the advance of Christianity,” explains director David Oliver. “It explores how a benevolent philosopher becomes a tyrant and how faith can develop into dangerous zeal for two symbiotic yet opposed religions. It’s about the search for meaning in life, the allure and corruption of power, the slippery slope of deep personal conviction, how best intentions can go wrong, and a few other important things as well.”
Torn Space founder and artistic director Dan Shanahan says the theater “had wanted to work with one of the practitioners of modernism for some time—whether Chekov or Ibsen—and the chance to collaborate with Neil on an original interpretation of a rarely staged work by Ibsen was extremely exciting. Emperor and Galilean allows us to work with a classic, while staying very true to one of our missions: to fully explore the possibilities of live theater.”
“Neil’s done an amazing job of honing the scope of the original down to the central through-line of Julian’s journey from idealistic youth through tyrannical emperor to disillusioned warrior for his cause,” Oliver says. “It’s very lean and taut now. And that’s not to knock the original. Ibsen felt very invested in this piece, that the historical facts of the story paralleled his own challenges of living under the restrictive social structures of his own time. You can feel that passionate need to break through in the play.”
Featuring Niagara University’s Adriano Gatto, Emperor and Galilean also stars Jim Maloy, David Lundy, Lisa Vitrano (as the only woman in the cast), and Buffalo Academy of the Performing Arts student Daniel Henderson. It runs March 1 to 25 at the Adam Mickiewicz Dramatic Circle on 612 Fillmore Avenue in Buffalo. (716-812-5733.)
Fish Out of Water
Pursuant to last season’s The Cant by Shay Linehan, the Mr. and Mrs. Frank J. McGuire International Playwriting Competition has yielded another production for the Irish Classical Theatre Company. Fish Out of Water by Gillian Gratton is “a delightful, quirky piece with a Martin McDonagh dark underbelly of violence, trapped sexual frustration, and strained familial ties,” says ICTC producing director Fortunato Pezzimenti. “What could be better?”
Pezzimenti says Fish is “basically a monologue piece, [in which] Gratton has etched three colorful and distinctive characters with three unique voices and points of view regarding the action of the play. The vivid, concise and humorous writing depicting the malicious gossip, envy, and the tortured souls of a small provincial Irish town succeeded in holding [the attention of the readers for the competition] and put the play in serious consideration for top honors. We all thought that Gillian had a natural gift for dialogue and human comedy.
“To quote Gillian, ‘Fish Out of Water is about secrets, sneaky behavior, deception and covering things up, and a plan that goes slightly amiss.’ Lydia leaves Dublin, after undergoing a traumatic upheaval in her personal life, to settle in her deceased grandmother’s home in a small Irish town. Her arrival and demeanor set off a ricochet of farcical events provoked by jealousies and threats to the norms of town life that are unforgettable—events that will be seared and sealed in the collective memories of protagonists Tom and Mary (as well as the characters referenced in the play) forever.
“Remarkably, although the audience sees only three characters, Gillian has created an impressive array of townsfolk which serves to expand and illuminate the world of Fish Out of Water. As the title suggests, these are people who are in a situation they are unsuited to as they try to put things right.”
Fish director Pezzimenti traveled to Thomastown, Kilkenny in Ireland this past November to meet Gratton and discuss the play. He also had a chance “to meet some of the locals, go to the local pub, and get a feel for life in the town that is not unlike the town in the play,” he says. “The experience deepened my understanding of the play and when I read it now, I can see and hear Gillian as well as Thomastown.”
Starring Chris Brandjes, Beth Donahue, and Diane Curley, the world premiere of Fish Out of Water runs March 1 to 25 at the Andrews Theatre. (716-853-4282.)
Currently celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables is the world’s longest-running musical and the third longest-running Broadway production of all time. In honor of this landmark achievement, producer Cameron Mackintosh has restaged the show with new scenery inspired by Victor Hugo, the original author of Les Misérables. Critics have hailed the adjustments, claiming that they help the epic musical move along more clearly. But not to worry—all of the classic songs, including “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Bring Him Home,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?,” “One Day More,” and “Master of the House” remain intact.
J. Mark McVey, who has played in 2,900 performances of “Les Miz” stars as Jean Valjean. The new production of Les Misérables runs through March 4 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center. (800-745-3000.)
Also this month, the Subversive Theatre Collective offers An Elegy for Stanley Gorski by local legend Emanuel Fried. Fried, who died last year, would have been ninety-nine on opening night. It runs March 1 to 31 at the Manny Fried Playhouse in the Great Arrow Building. (716-408-0499.)
For more reviews and news about WNY theater join Buffalo Spree theater previewer Darwin McPherson on Eyewitness News This Morning on WKBW-TV and buffalospree.com.