Onstage: October must-sees
Buffalo Laboratory Theatre
By Johnna Adams
Director: Taylor Doherty
Starring: Josie DiVincenzo, Katie White
Any play that’s built on the tragedy of a fifth grader’s suicide is bound to be both intense and thought provoking, and Princess Grace Award winner Johnna Adams’ contemporary play doesn’t hold back when Gidion’s mom shows up for her prearranged conference with his teacher.
“Gidion’s Knot is a difficult play,” says Buffalo Laboratory Theatre (BLT) artistic director Taylor Doherty. “It deals with painful, complex subjects—parenthood, bullying, suicide—in an emotionally truthful way. The play unfolds in real time, just one long scene without interruption or respite. In eighty minutes, the audience walks through a tense psychological minefield, with no easy answers. If you’re looking for emotional pabulum in the form of sound bite-length solutions to some of the most difficult issues facing families today, this just isn’t the place. But, I’ve never believed that a great piece of theater has to supply all of the answers. It just has to ask the right questions, and a smart audience can take it from there. I suspect this is the kind of play that the audience will think about for a long time afterward.”
Because BLT has a large stage in the Swan Theatre at Hilbert College and this is a “small” play, Doherty is creatively addressing the challenge. “The stage is too big,” he acknowledges. “I want the audience to feel like they are trapped in that classroom with the two of them. So we are putting the audience right up on the stage with the actors, with eighty seats surrounding a small playing area on three sides. Hopefully the audience will feel like they’re sitting in seats usually occupied by fifth graders.”
Doherty hopes this will bring more truth to the emotions portrayed by Katie White and Josie DiVincenzo by enabling audience members to see every subtle facial cue and minute physical gesture. “In real life, so much of any social interaction occurs within these incredibly small nonverbal cues,” he notes. “Theater, because of the physical distances involved, sometimes has trouble with these subtleties. But being this close to the audience allows the actors to find a new level of emotional truth in their performances. This play deserves no less. No hiding behind theater tricks; the truth has to be there, raw on the stage, every single moment.”
Yes, it’s true that BLT is limiting ticket sales with this choice, but Doherty says he would rather service the needs of the play and a particular vision for the production. “Those will always trump economics,” he says. “God knows you don’t run a small, nonprofit theater company to get rich. You do it because you believe in the art. In this instance, the art calls for fewer seats, and I believe the audience’s experience will be exponentially more powerful because of it.”
Gidion’s Knot plays through October 5 at Buffalo Laboratory Theatre (716-202-9033 or buffalolabtheatre.squarespace.com).
Road Less Traveled Productions
By Ira Levin
Directed by Scott Behrend
Starring David Oliver, Lisa Vitrano, Michael Seitz, Mary McMahon Jakiel, and Gerry Maher
For the record—literally—Ira Levin’s Death Trap is the longest running comedy thriller to run on Broadway. In its two years on the Great White Way, it ran 1,793 performances and Marian Seldes was in every single one of them. For that, she earned a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records as “most durable actress.” Indeed.
Since then, the Tony-nominated, Edgar-winning Death Trap itself has proved as durable as Seldes, still getting regular productions around the country and, this season, at Road Less Traveled Productions (RLTP) under the direction of RLTP artistic director Scott Behrend. “I sort of grew up with this play,” Behrend says. “My aunt had a VHS copy of the movie with Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine and I’d watch it every time we would visit my aunt and a piece of it always stuck in my brain.”
So much so that Behrend and actor/director David Oliver started talking about doing the piece together at some nebulous future time. “We were battering the idea around for a couple of years but then after we did Very Fine Use of a Grenade this past season, people seemed to like the puzzle aspect of that play and this sort of came back into my mind. And David’s not getting any younger; if we were going to do it with him, we couldn’t wait much longer.”
Along with Oliver, Lisa Vitrano, Michael Seitz, Mary McMahon Jakiel, and Gerry Maher round the cast. The production will stay true to its late seventies genesis, as messing with modernization would also mess with the plot. “Oddly enough, the script doesn’t seem dated in terms of cultural references, which is one of the reasons it lives on,” Behrend notes. “We do have to rely on the technology of the time, which includes the typewriter; we can’t use a computer or it would screw with the plot. And it’s the seventies, so there can’t be any cell phones.”
There will also be seventies costumes, and an original set by Dyan Burlingame who designed RLTP’s An Iliad and Clybourne Park. “I’m excited because I was not interested in the classic Death Trap with white stucco walls and wood beams paneling and then assorted weapons from Sidney’s collection all over the walls,” Behrend laughs. “That seemed dated and fake to me. Dyan has come up with a great design with an old wood barn sort of aspect that I hope will be a little bit creepy and gothic almost, and that’s really going to help us tell the story.”
The story, at its heart, is a mystery with all the requisite twists and turns, and humor as well. “Martin McDonagh is famous for creating that level of violence and suspense with a darker level of humor and, at times, this almost feels like that, like this is the step before, with not as much realized violence and a lot of ironic humor,” Behrend says. “[Ira Levin] openly mocks himself and the idea of the play being a piece of hit theater that will sell tickets and be a fan favorite, and he does it in such an endearing, ironic way that it still has this really great mystery and suspense and violence. If a very good murder mystery is done live on stage, it’s very powerful. It should be a great night.”
Death Trap continues at Road Less Traveled Productions through October 12 (716-629-3069 or roadlesstraveledproductions.org).
Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Based on the story of Joseph in Genesis
Director: Andy Blankenbuehler
One of the most enduring and ubiquitous shows of all time, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat now comes to Shea’s as part of the 2014–15 Broadway series. A family friendly show, Joseph tells the biblical story of Jacob and his dozen sons, including his favorite, Joseph, who rises to power after the brothers leave him for dead. With a variety of song styles, this all-sung musical is a showcase for vocal prowess, humor, and lively dance.
This touring production features American Idol third season runner-up Diana DiGarmo as the narrator, and her husband, Idol fifth season finalist Ace Young, as Joseph. The couple met post-Idol during the Broadway revival of Hair, where DeGarmo played Penny Pingleton and Young played Berger. They became engaged on-air, during the 2012 season finale of American Idol.
Tony Award-winning (In the Heights) Andy Blankenbuehler directs and choreographs this production, which includes new dancing as well as a brand new dreamcoat designed by Broadway designer Jennifer Caprio. If you know the lyrics to “Joseph’s Coat,” you know that the garment has twenty-nine colors ranging from cream to crimson, and Caprio has said that her amazing creation—which took months to make—contains every one.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays October 7–12 at Shea’s Buffalo (716-847-0850, sheas.org).
Also Playing (In Order of Closing)
Subversive Theatre wraps The Grapes of Wrath on October 4 (subversivetheatre.org, 716-408-0499).
American Repertory Theater continues Michael John LaChiusa’s Hello Again through October 4 (artofwny.org, 716-697-0837).
Buffalo United Artists’ remount of Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire closes October 4 (buffalobua.org, 716-886-9239.)
Buffalo playwright Tom Dudzick’s Over the Tavern runs at Kavinoky through October 5 (kavinokytheatre.com, 716-881-7668).
The world premiere of Tropical Heat continues at Alleyway Theatre through October 11 (alleyway.com, 716-852-2600).
The world premiere of All Quiet on the Western Front closes October 11 at New Phoenix (newphoenixtheatre.org, 716-853-1334).
The Liar runs through October 12 at Irish Classical Theatre (irishclassicaltheatre.com, 716-853-4282).
The Drowsy Chaperone continues through October 12 at MusicalFare (musicalfare.com, 716-839-8540).
See Seussical at Theatre of Youth until October 12 (theatreofyouth.org, 716-884-4400).
The last performance of Torn Space’s Lulu is October 12 (tornspacetheater.com, 716-812-5733).
The world premiere of Shake ‘Em On Down at Paul Robeson Theatre closes October 12 (africancultural.org, 716-884-2013).
O’Connell & Company runs Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks through October 19 (oconnellandcompany.com, 716-848-0800).
Opening This Month
You Can’t Take It With You runs October 10–19 at Lancaster Opera House (lancopera.org, 716-683-1776).
Subversive Theatre opens End Days on October 22 (subversivetheatre.org, 716-408-0499).
Buffalo Public Theatre opens The Children’s Hour on October 23 (newphoenixtheatre.org, 716-853-1334).
Jewish Repertory Theatre opens Old Jews Telling Jokes on October 23 (jewishrepertorytheatre.com, 888-718-4253).
Buffalo United Artists opens The Homosexuals on October 24 (buffalobua.org, 716-886-9239).
Playwright Donna Hoke is Spree’s theater writer.