THE BASICS: PATIENCE, an operetta in two acts with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, collectively known as “Gilbert & Sullivan” (or simply G&S) produced by Opera-Lytes, directed by Lisa Berglund, continues at the Alleyway Theatre, “1 Curtain Up Alley” (which runs from Pearl to Main along the north wall of the expanded Shea’s Performing Arts Center) Thursday, Friday, and Saturday May 12, 13, and 14 at 7:30 and Sunday, May 15 at 2:30 p.m. with a pre-curtain 2:00 p.m. lecture titled “Gilbert’s Groupies & Why ‘Patience’ Remains Relevant.” Run time is 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission. Water and soda pop available ($2).
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Bunthorne, a lofty aesthetic poet, is in love with the innocent Patience, a dairy maid. Patience, on the other hand, carries a torch for Grovesnor, her childhood friend whose poetry, by the way, is more down to earth. Meanwhile, Jane is in love with Bunthorne, who spurns her advances. In this updated “sixties” version (1960s that is), we have girl groupies and Royal Canadian Mounted Police to round out the cast. Of course, it all ends happily, but not quite the way you might expect.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:
PATIENCE lampoons fads and hypocrisy, while celebrating individual self-reflection and honesty. Specifically, the operetta was a satire on the “aesthetic” movement (“art for art’s sake”) which was itself a reaction against conservative Victorian values. As explained in the program, the Arts and Crafts movement led by Western New York Roycrofters is an American adaptation of aestheticism.
PATIENCE lampoons fads and hypocrisy, while celebrating individual self-reflection and honesty.
Patience has some importance in the history of musical theater. It was the sixth operatic collaboration of fourteen between Gilbert and Sullivan. It ran for a total of 578 performances. Only The Mikado ran longer. In the middle of its run, PATIENCE moved to the Savoy Theatre and became the first theatrical production in the world to be lit entirely by electric light. Soon, productions of G&S were called “Savoy Operas” and both fans and performers were “Savoyards,” a name which continues to this day.
In a conversation, two of the principals, Sara Kovasci and John Vogt , revealed that PATIENCE also made a difference in the world of light opera in that the songs, instead of being stand-alone pieces, are more integral to the plot than previous operettas by G&S or anyone else for that matter. This made them more like grand opera.
And, answering the question as to the difference between an “operetta” and a “musical” they revealed that musicals rely much more on spoken word to further the plot, whereas operettas, like grand opera, rely more on music.
The cast of 10 is ably supported by a piano/wind quintet (electronic keyboard with “real” flute, clarinet, bassoon, and French horn). The strongest performances came from the “love triangle” of Deborah Smith as Patience, John Vogt as Bunthorne, and Sara Kovasci as Jane. However, Ms. Smith, whose voice is the most operatic, might consider holding back a little during the ensemble numbers, in fairness to her cast-mates.
A highlight, perhaps because the tune is so catchy, is the duet “So go to him, and say to him” which was staged very creatively and sung with great timing and physicality by Kovasci and Vogt.
Kudos to costume coordinator Ashley Bauman and her crew who bring us the “girl groupies” first as “hippies” in blue jeans and headbands, then as Twiggy-type “mods” with bee-hive hairdos, and then finally as “Jackie Kennedy” look-alikes. Very clever.
And kudos to Neal Radice, who lends out the Alleyway Theatre to a variety of small companies, recently Ujima Theatre and this month to Opera-Lytes.
But here’s where the rubber meets the road: It’s a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Either you love ‘em or you hate ‘em. There is very little middle ground. G&S operettas are a specialized, acquired taste. I ended up going solo because none of my circle would even entertain the thought of attending, much less actually going. And, perhaps it’s just as well that they didn’t. This performance was equal to a good college production. It was a fine effort, but in the end very uneven. So, if you look at the “Herd of Buffalo Rating System” for “Two Buffalos” you could read it as “Unless you are the sort of person who adores G&S, you might look around for something else.” On the other hand, if all you’ve ever seen is “PIRATES” and “MIKADO” and if you want to add PATIENCE to your G&S “life list,” it’s amusing and, given the constraints of the Alleyway stage and Opera-Lytes’ “bench,” very well staged.
*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!