THE BASICS: This first performance of SPEAK NO EVIL, by New York city playwright Sonya Sobieski, directed by Neal Radice, involves an ensemble cast of seven actors who take on a total of seventeen roles in a series of vignettes, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. at the Alleyway Theatre, through February 13, One Curtain Up Alley (on the north side of Shea’s) accessible from Main Street or Pearl Street (852-2600). www.alleyway.com. About 90 minutes with one 10 minute intermission. Recommended for ages 17+. Soda pop in cans available.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Steve and Tricia have broken up, but since they both work at “The Institute of Right Things to Say” it’s complicated. Unfortunately, for this audience member, so was following the action in this “Commedia dell’arte meets Absurdism” play which keeps switching its message. One message might be “Language matters. Words count. Don’t hurt others.” Or, maybe not. Here is my best description of the evening. Imagine a Saturday Night Live show, with all of your favorite SNL actors, and they’re really good actors whom you love, and there are some laugh out loud lines, but skit after skit after skit leave you thinking “Wow. That one didn’t go anywhere.” And there’s your 90 minutes.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: First off, major congratulations to the cast. They were great. The most memorable were the three who kept their roles all evening, so you got to know them a little better. Joey Bucheker was the rejected “Steve,” Emily Yancy was his former girlfriend “Tricia,” and David C. Mitchell was “Silent Guy,” who does not speak (having despaired of ever saying the “right thing”) but he has a very expressive face, that, as they say “speaks volumes.”
The set was your typical minimal, almost bare, stage with one piece of furniture that, like the actors, took on many functions, from receptionist’s desk to funeral bier.
We first meet Bethany Sparacio in the role of “Beverly,” the receptionist we’ve all wanted to slap, and she, like everyone else, is able to quickly inhabit her roles (she has four in all). James Cichocki is “John” that mild-mannered but annoying co-worker we all have, along with two other roles. Joyce Stilson is also a “Member” of the “Institute of Right Things to Say” and two other roles. To bring back the SNL analogy, everybody is a seasoned actor, and they know their craft.
Most dynamic was Melissa Leventhal, who in one of her roles is “Charlie” the puppet – a re-imagining of Charley McCarthy, the puppet made famous by the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. One comment that so many said of Charlie McCarthy was that his humor was always “clean” although it could be very pointed. This “Charlie” is foul-mouthed (hence the 17+ age recommendation) and encourages audience participation in same (aided by other actors salted in the theater). So, perhaps, “Charlie” is in opposition to “The Institute of Right Things to Say.”
SPOILER PARAGRAPH: Charlie first appears in the lobby at intermission for “ad lib” dialog provided by Melissa Leventhal. I must confess I first thought that a person with mental issues, seeing the crowd, had wandered into the lobby. I don’t know if that appearance is written in the original script, but either way, it’s a very brave thing to do, not only “breaking the fourth wall” but doing it ad lib/improv.
The Alleyway’s brilliant tag line/ slogan is “Buffalo’s theatre with a pulse.” It’s very clever by being open to many interpretations, two of which could be 1. The Alleyway presents somewhat edgy, thought provoking plays that get the blood flowing through your brain or 2. The Alleyway presents plays by living authors (as opposed to “the canon”). And certainly Neal Radice and Joyce Stilson do as much or even more than anyone in America to encourage new plays, reading hundreds of scripts every year, producing “Buffalo Quickies” annually, and more.
So, as we all know, anytime you try something new, it could a “hit or a miss.” This is more the latter.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!