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STEVE at Alleyway is the perfect play to celebrate BUA’s 25th anniversary

THE BASICS:  STEVE, a play by Mark Gerrard presented by Buffalo United Artists, directed by Jessica K. Rasp, starring Zachary Bellus, Caitlin Coleman, Timothy Patrick Finnegan, David Granville, Eric Rawski, and Michael Seitz runs through February 11, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. at the Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley (886-9239). Enter not on Main Street but along the alley that runs behind Shea’s from Main to Pearl. Runtime: 90 minutes without intermission www.buffalobua.org

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: This is a story about middle-aged couples with problems some of which stem from middle-aged men trying desperately to hold on to their youthful sexuality. Steven and Carrie and Matt are old friends who years ago were servers in a restaurant where they would sing Broadway tunes, but now in middle age Carrie is dying of cancer, Steven suspects that his partner, Stephen, might be cheating on him with Matt’s partner Brian, and all the men are very interested in the hot young Argentine dancer / waiter, Esteban.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This is the 25th anniversary of Buffalo United Artists whose first show, the musical revue A….MY NAME IS ALICE in January, 1992, was supposed to be a one-time thing but ran for almost two years, and things just kept going from there, according to a program note by BUA’s Founder and Executive Producer Javier Bustillos,

STEVE seems a perfect choice for the 25th anniversary show, chock full of musical theater references and snippets of Broadway songs while dealing with gay and lesbian issues which, while not always, are more often than not simply universal human issues – death and dying, marriage and divorce, falling in and out of love, fighting age (and gravity) in general and middle age in particular, raising a child, dealing with your parents, all tinged with a romantic view of the good old days, which for the characters on stage would have been about, say, 25 years ago.

You don’t have to be a theater and Broadway musical maven to enjoy the show, but a number of references (many about Sondheim musicals) do come thick and fast as the play moves along, so when you go, don’t expect to “get” every joke.

The play opens at a Manhattan restaurant table where Carrie, (Caitlin Baeumler Coleman) wearing the signature head scarf of a cancer patient, is worried less about dying than her breakup with her lesbian partner as she confides to Stephen (Michael Seitz) who is upset about many things, including the fact that his 8 year old son, Zach, whom he is raising with stay-at-home dad Steven (Eric Michael Rawski), has been stealing things and that Steven is late, as usual, in this case to his own birthday dinner with old friends. Soon those friends, another middle-aged couple, Brian (Timothy Patrick Finnegan) and Matt (David Granville), arrive. As each guest gives Steven a birthday card, he tosses it, unopened, in a pile. We begin to see that it’s not boorishness, it’s denial. He doesn’t want to turn 47, so he comes late to his own party; he doesn’t want Carrie to die, so he just pretends that’s not happening, either.

Soon the level of testosterone increases as Esteban (Zachary Bellus), the hot young dancer from Argentina working in NYC as a waiter, appears. And soon after things get ugly when Steven confronts Stephen about “sexting” with Brian. Or does he confront him? We see, acted out on stage, the confrontation (so that we in the audience know what’s really going on in his mind) and then there’s a flickering of the stage lights and we see the same scene again, only this time Steven is in his full denial mode.

I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me. What more can you get from live theater?

There are other theatrical tricks in this play as well, including, projected on a screen behind us, various texts that go back and forth, mostly sexting between Stephen and Brian. Kudos to director Jessica K. Rasp, by the way, for allowing those texts to reveal themselves in real time (well, real time for a really fast texter). Another fine directorial moment is a scene with Stephen, alone on stage, talking on the land line with his mother, then toggling back and forth on the same phone to speak with Zach’s other grandmother, all the while texting with his son Zach who is in another room (kids these days!) about not getting ice cream until he puts on his PJs and gets ready for bed, and texting with his partner Steven wondering why he’s late and when he’ll be home with the ice cream, and simultaneously (!) sexting with Brian. Whew! Talk about being in the (ice cream) sandwich generation!

Another fine moment is something that you can expect from BUA and Eric Rawski, and that’s an intimate scene where we go inside Steven’s mind as he has a vision of a healthy, recovered Carrie and we find out just how deep their friendship is. Damn, I’m getting all teary-eyed just typing this stupid paragraph.

I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me. What more can you get from live theater?

BUA’s next production should be a hoot, CLEOPATRA, starring Jimmy Janowski as Cleo herself, which will run at the Alleyway from March 17th through April 8th.

*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!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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