2011 Fall Theater Preview
As Curtain Up! ushers in a new theater season, four of the productions premiering this month are brand new shows written by local playwrights. It’s no surprise, considering the wide range of talent in Western New York’s theater community and the enterprising spirit of its producers.
The Ghost of Fort Niagara
Founded over thirty years ago by executive director Neal Radice, the Alleyway has always been dedicated to the development and production of new plays and musicals. Many of those efforts are created by Radice himself, who wrote the Alleyway’s Curtain Up! show, The Ghost of Fort Niagara. “It is based on the popular legend of the headless ghost of Fort Niagara; the one we have all been told [about] on our trips to the historic landmark. This time, it’s told as a musical with a cast of seven,” Radice says.
For those unaware, legend has it that French military officers stationed at Fort Niagara dueled over the love of an Indian maid. Not satisfied with merely killing his opponent, the victorious soldier, in a fit of drunken rage, went a step further and decapitated the victim with his sword, threw the head into the Niagara River, and concealed the body in a well.
“Claims persist that when the moon is full, the ghost of the headless body of the young officer wanders the halls and grounds of the old colonial fort desperately searching for his lost head,” Radice explains. “My new musical exposes the characters, conflicts, and passions leading up to the fateful event.”
Radice says the creation of The Ghost of Fort Niagara flowed very quickly. “As with most of my works,” he admits, “the entire show was written, including all music, lyrics, and orchestrations, in about a month.”
Curtain Up! is “a natural time to produce music or comedy,” he adds. “Also, the scenery, costumes and special effects for The Ghost of Fort Niagara are the most demanding of any show in our 2011–12 season. Scheduling it first means we have the greatest amount of time to prepare the production.”
Starring Katy Clancy, Roger Van Dette, David C. Mitchell, and Paloma D’Auria, The Ghost of Fort Niagara opens September 8 at the Alleyway (852-2600).
Neal Radice Fast Facts
How old are you? 63.
Where were you born and where do you live now? Buffalo. I live one block from the hospital where I was born and in a home to which I delivered newspapers when I was a boy.
How long have you been writing plays? 35 years.
Favorite playwright? David French, John Guare, Stephen Sondheim.
What do you like most about WNY? The gentle pace of life.
Buffalo Laboratory Theatre’s Indivisible makes its WNY premiere during a Curtain Up! South Gala in Hamburg on September 16. Written by BLT artistic director Taylor Doherty, this international project has been around the world.
“Indivisible began as a project commissioned by Bingo Parallax, a theater company that performs mainly in Japan. They asked me to write a play that examined ‘the zeitgeist of a decaying, post-industrial America,’” Doherty says. “In discussions with them, it became clear that their view of the U.S. and the people who live here was rather … bleak.”
Though Doherty considers himself “an über-liberal” and agreed with many of their critiques, he felt their concerns seemed to “boil down more to how humans treat other humans rather than something particular to the United States,” he observes. “A lot of that cutthroat stuff is found everywhere. People are people—and people are animals.”
Doherty moved to tackle a larger, more overtly existential question, which is, as he puts it: “What’s it like to try and survive the ‘human condition,’ The play became about a broken man, thrown into a world that he doesn’t understand, with people who scare and confuse him, and how he has to make sense of the horrors and find meaning in a place that seems, almost by design, to bring out the worst in people.”
Bingo Parallax was pleased with Doherty’s big-picture approach. He gave the play a minor rewrite and submitted it to Edward Albee’s preeminent Last Frontier Theatre Festival. It was accepted for a mainstage reading, where a large audience of theater professionals could provide feedback.
Doherty was brought to Valdez, Alaska for a week to direct the reading, which gave him “invaluable experience in seeing the script going through a full artistic process,” he tells. “Seeing professional actors explicating the text, asking me questions about character motivation and development, was revelatory all on its own.”
Most of the feedback was positive, and Doherty realized that he had “tapped into something people had truly engaged with.” Emmy Award-winning director Charles St. Clair (who headed Indivisible’s feedback panel) procured the rights for the American premiere at Phoenix’s iTheatre Collaborative. After a well-received world premiere in Osaka, the subsequent four-week iTheatre production was critically acclaimed and led to Indivisible being optioned for a New York City production in 2012.
Starring Ray Boucher and Kathleen Golde, Indivisible opens September 16 at the Swan Auditorium on the campus of Hilbert College (202-9033). As part of the Curtain Up! South Gala, there will be a champagne reception, hors d’oeuvres, and live music.
Taylor Doherty Fast Facts
How old are you? 39.
Where were you born and where do you live now? Born in Buffalo, live in Amherst.
How long have you been writing plays? I’ve been writing since I was a kid. But I didn’t do much with it until about eight years ago.
Favorite playwright? Samuel Beckett.
What do you like most about WNY? The quality of our culture and arts community.
Shaun McLaughlin, who wrote Alt Theatre’s Cheapjack Shakespeare last season, returns with Internal Continuity, presented by Road Less Traveled Productions. The play explores “the midlife crisis of the Star Wars generation,” McLaughlin explains. “Three pop-culture-obsessed men discover that their passions for fiction that have bound them together since high school might not be the most ultimate goal of life.”
A veteran comic book writer and animated television producer, McLaughlin admits the idea came from real life. “I know people like this,” he says. “I had a roommate and we were both fans of/workers in the pop culture industry. When I got married and moved out, his life stayed the same. I was worrying about career and starting a family and he was still wondering how he’d get his hands on anime before anyone else did. I started extrapolating how that would work—or not work—as life went on.
“I think everyone over thirty has had the experience of running into someone from high school and discovering that they hadn’t changed a whit. And I don’t mean physically. I mean, they were still interested in exactly the same things they were when they were fifteen. [Internal Continuity] is about how they got that way and what happens when they try to change. … There’s been a lot of talk lately about Americans living an eternal adolescence. That goes beyond still wearing camo cargo shorts and Ramones t-shirts (guilty). It’s about discovering that a friendship that’s long is not necessarily deep. Everyone keeps secrets. Sometimes you don’t even know you’re keeping [one].”
Directed by RLTP artistic/executive director Scott Behrend, Internal Continuity was developed within RLTP’s New Play Workshop and stars Bob Grabowski, Matt Witten, Dave Hayes, Sara Kow-Falcone, Aaron Krygier, and Bethany Sparacio. It opens September 9 at the Road Less Traveled Theater at the Market Arcade (1-800-745-3000).
Shaun McLaughlin Fast Facts
How old are you? As old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth.
Where were you born and where do you live now? Born at Millard Fillmore Gates Circle. I now live down the street from Millard Fillmore Suburban.
How long have you been writing plays? I wrote a couple as an undergrad and then went into TV. I returned to writing stage as a part of my graduate work about five years ago.
Favorite playwright? No one in particular. I like Beckett, Ionesco, and John Osborne. Probably the playwright I admire the most, however, is George S. Kaufman.
What do you like most about WNY? How good it’s been for my children. And the ability to drive fifteen miles in less than ninety minutes.
Continuing his series of original “site-specific” productions, Torn Space Theater cofounder Dan Shanahan offers Procession, which is designed for an early twentieth century German Evangelical Church. “Audiences will observe the rituals of an unnamed society. These are ancient people, dislodged from time, who arrived in a spaceship; they have seen the past and the future,” Shanahan says. “The plot is developed through a religious procession, which will connect two aspects of the same person to their sacrifice.
“The dramatic structure is constructed through four cycles: Conception, Birth, Union, and Death, while the production design is constructed through the iconography of a baroque spectacle. The interior of the space becomes a central character; it is suggested that the space is telling the story, that the audience is experiencing the memories of the space’s interior. The space breathes, attempts to communicate, and disposes artifacts contributing to a landscape of formulas, krumpers, twins, and gospel.”
Inspired by the current home of the Theosophical Society in Buffalo in Black Rock, Procession, like Torn Space’s other site-specific works, “is designed around the architecture and mythology of the building and its surrounding neighborhood,” Shanahan explains.
“The production is the result of a collaborative working process that has come to define Torn Space. The theatricality of our theater is the ‘external force’—the production elements trap, touch, and alter the characters, while the reality of the characters is a theatrical reality. Stage lights, video, dripping fluid, artifacts, sound are all consciously engineered and form the parameters of their world.”
After determining how to best utilize the space, Shanahan and his designers worked with the Theosophical Society, “who gave us an introduction to the themes, history, and beliefs of Theosophy, from which we were able to extract production ideas,” he says. Once a general structure is created, along with light, video, and sound design, performers begin rehearsing.
“To a certain extent, I shaped the characters around the performers I had in mind,” Shanahan admits. “I knew I wanted the central figure to be a vision from a Calvin Klein ad, circa 1990s; the priest would be created for Jon Joy; and the woman who prepares and cleans the space needed to be Diane Gaidry; the spiritual figure was created for Tim McPeek.”
These familiar Torn Space veterans “add to an evolving mythology we have created within our original work,” Shanahan notes.
Procession begins September 15 at the Theosophical Society of Buffalo on 70 Military Road (812-5733).
Dan Shanahan Fast Facts
How old are you? 34.
Where were you born and where do you live now? I was born here, and live here.
How long have you been writing plays? I wrote my first play, Muriel Vanderbilt Goes Walking, in 2005.
Favorite playwright? Harold Pinter.
What do you like most about WNY? The things you can do here and the way you can do them.
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.