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Onstage: Noteworthy in November

Actor Barry Williams in RLTP's "Antony & Cleopatra."

Lindsay Zasada

As always, our local companies offer a creative variety of haunting selections for Western New York theatergoers.


Return of the Screw

During its 1997-98 season, the Irish Classical Theatre Company presented Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. The chilling gothic thriller, directed by Fortunato Pezzimenti, was the last production at the Calumet Theatre on Chippewa, and it’s still remembered fondly by those who saw it (including yours truly).

Now that the subscriber base is considerably larger, “We are delighted to introduce new audiences to this compelling play,” says ICTC artistic director Vincent O’Neill. “It is an ideal fit with ICTC’s mission, a classic by any definition, and adding an offering in the mystery/thriller genre rounds out ICTC’s 2011–12 season perfectly.”

James’s story about a young woman charged with watching two children in a remote English estate that seems to be haunted is “a thrilling showcase for two experienced actors,” O’Neill says. “‘The Woman’ portrays the governess in a role that is an emotional roller coaster, as she confronts her fears in a situation that she cannot understand or control. ‘The Man’ portrays all the other characters in the play.

“Between them, they delineate, on a fairly bare stage without benefit of props, a whole world—different locations, roles, relationships, and mood. This is a ghost story, to be sure, played out through a clever theatrical device that challenges the audience to suspend their disbelief as the narrative explores the nature of evil.”

New York City-based actress Carolyn Baeumler plays The Woman. Recommended by ICTC veteran Catherine Eaton (Corsetless, Hedda Gabler), who was originally slated for the part, Baeumler brings an impressive array of stage and film credits to the Irish stage.

O’Neill, who played The Man in 1998, revisits the role for this production. This gives O’Neill “the opportunity to explore the nature of evil and the dark side of the human psyche even more deeply from the perspective of an actor richer for the life experience of more than ten additional years,” says Pezzimenti, ICTC’s producing director.

ICTC associate director Derek Campbell brings a new and original perspective to this profound and multi-layered story. His direction faces the challenge of presenting the play in the round at the Andrews Theatre. “Creating the sense of fluidity without sacrificing the elements of fright and surprise the plot requires will certainly require the director, designers, and actors to bring their very best sensibility, artistry, and execution to this production,” O’Neill says.
The Turn of the Screw continues through November 13. (853-4282.)


Lamb takes on Carnage

Acquiring the rights to Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage “was one of the biggest coups we’ve had,” says Kavinoky Theatre managing director Joe Demerly. “I was shocked we got the rights to produce it.” The Broadway production was critically and commercially acclaimed, with a limited engagement first extended and then converted to an open-ended run.

Reza’s comedy of manners (without the manners) about two sets of parents who get into an increasingly heated discussion about their feuding children (and other topics) won 2009 Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Direction along with nominations for all four of the lead roles (Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden—with a win for Harden).

“Given the right set of circumstances, we all—no matter how socially sophisticated—devolve to the tribal behavior of juveniles, and thus demonstrate for them how to do it,” says Kavinoky artistic director David Lamb, who directs this WNY premiere production.

Lamb is perfect for this task, Demerly notes, because “he has a phenomenal ear for pacing and timing. David is innately intelligent when it comes to situations, particularly comedic ones.”

When it came to casting, Lamb already knew three actors (Eileen Dugan, Lisa Ludwig, and Norman Sham) and trusted “their ability to play almost anything well,” he says. The fourth, Patrick Moltane, “auditioned and impressed.” However, “most importantly, all four showed a huge desire to play these parts and all knew the play. How can a director go wrong?”
Certain to be a hit for the 2011–12 season, God of Carnage opens November 4. (829-7668.)


Sweet story

“Although set in Chicago, this is a great story that could really have been set in Buffalo,” says Road Less Traveled Productions artistic/executive director Scott Behrend about the company’s WNY premiere production of Superior Donuts.

“The show starts off with a bang, after a break-in at the titular Chicago doughnut shop run by aging hippie Arthur Przybyszewski [played by Steve Jakiel]. Divorced and alone, Arthur is resigned to maintaining his quiet existence at the family-run shop—until young dreamer Franco Wicks [played by Barry Williams] shows up looking for a job and the opportunity to breathe new life into Superior Donuts. When an unexpected tragedy befalls Franco, Arthur is forced to decide whether he’s going to continue playing it safe.”

Along with the “clash of cultures” between the Polish Arthur and African American Franco, RLTP literary director Jon Elston notes there are Italian-Irish mobsters and a Russian DVD storeowner. “It’s a story of community pride and a great character piece,” he says.

Besides Jakiel and Williams, the cast includes Gerry Maher, Stan Klimecko, Victoria Perez, Carlton Franklin, and Jermain Cooper. “I’m excited about working with Stan for the first time at RLTP,” Behrend says. “Barry came off a terrific year at RLTP (Antony & Cleopatra and Last Days of Judas Iscariot) and I really wanted something to feature him in. I’m very excited to have Steve, Gerry, Victoria, Jermain, and Carlton back in the house.”

Behrend hopes this presentation will open the door to more local production of the work of Tracy Letts. “A very important playwright now in the American theater,” he says. Superior Donuts may be the first professional production of his work in Buffalo.
Directed by Behrend, Superior Donuts opens November 11. (800-745-3000.)


Fred’s dead

In September, I discussed four local playwrights whose works were staged for Curtain Up! The trend continues in November as Matthew LaChiusa, artistic director of American Repertory Theater of Western New York, presents his own new play.
Fred’s Requiem is a series of eight vignettes broken into two acts that surround the unfortunate death of Fred Valerdo and those associated with him,” LaChiusa says. “Each vignette features a character or two that is directly, or indirectly, intertwined with Fred or one of his family members. Throughout the play, characters find some sense of redemption as it relates to the loss of Fred.”

The idea for the play came from LaChiusa’s upbringing in a small, close-knit community. “Every week, my mom or Aunt Phylis would mention the passing of some community member, then I’d hear a lengthy history of this person’s family and, sometimes, a little juicy controversy about them. The strange thing is that, despite being part of this ‘close-knit’ community, you never personally met or knew who this individual was, so Fred’s Requiem is set up to reflect this oddity in that you hear about him, you get a family history surrounding Fred, you meet individuals associated with him, but you never meet or get to know Fred.”

Originally scheduled to produce the premiere of his brother Michael John LaChiusa’s Sukie and Sue: Their Story, ART lost the rights to the Blank Theatre in Los Angeles. Matthew filled the slot with Fred’s Requiem, which was initially developed during the 2006 Buffalo Infringement Festival. That presentation inspired LaChiusa to expand some of the vignettes and make it into a full-length work. “It should be fun to see it fully staged with some really talented actors working the roles,” he says.

The cast includes Joy Scime, who plays the lead female role of Mrs. Valerdo; LaChiusa’s favorite character actor Joe DiCesare; and several up-and-comers. “ART prides itself in taking unproven or underused local talent and giving them an opportunity to present their craft in lead roles,” LaChiusa says.
Presented at Verneice Turner’s Buffalo East, Fred’s Requiem begins November 11. (634-1102.)


Also onstage

The University at Buffalo Department of Theatre and Dance presents a new musical compilation piece featuring the compositions of Buffalo native David Shire. Throughout his career, Shire won the Academy Award for his song “It Goes Like It Goes,” from Norma Rae, the Grammy for Saturday Night Fever, and received multiple Tony and Emmy Award nominations.
Codirected by UB’s Nathan R. Matthews and New York-based director, writer, and choreographer Terry Berliner, It Goes Like It Goes: The Music of David Shire is a full production with orchestra and will include newly designed sets, lights, and costumes. It goes from November 16 to 20 at the Center for the Arts. (800-745-3000.)

Another musical with a Buffalo connection plays at MusicalFare, beginning November 2. A Class Act features songs from never-produced musicals by Tony-winning lyricist Edward Kleban (A Chorus Line). Kleban wrote with former BPO Pops conductor Marvin Hamlisch and Buffalo native Michael Bennett. (839-8540.)  




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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