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KALAMAZOO at New Phoenix Theatre, has a few tricks up its sleeve (3 shows left, Thursday is pay-what-you-can) 

THE BASICS:  KALAMAZOO, a play by Michelle Kholos Brooks and Kelly Younger, directed by Sheila McCarthy, starring Betsy Bittar and Marc-Jon Filippone runs through May 27, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. at the New Phoenix Theatre, 95 Johnson Park (853-1334). Runtime: 90 minutes including one 15-minute intermission. Beer, wine, and soda pop available. 

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Two baby-boomers, Peg, an Irish Catholic and Irv, a Jew, are widow and widower, and are being pushed by their adult children to “get back out there.” They meet through an on-line dating service, and, though both are excited to venture beyond their comfort zones, all does not go smoothly. But there’s the fun. At least for us. 

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: With rather clever staging by Director Sheila McCarthy using a functional (in the best sense of the word) set by John Kehoe, and a with a very busy stage manager, Sam Crystal, handling all the scene changes, we see that Peg and Irv are equals. They get equal time on stage, an equal number of lines, an equal number of scenes where one is moving too fast for the other, and vice-versa.  

On that idea of equality, if I were teaching a college theater class, I would have my students go this Thursday (pay what you can nights at the New Phoenix Theatre) and pay attention to how all the elements of theater can be so finely balanced that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  

Now, let’s face it, comedies about Catholics abound, at least in Buffalo (OVER THE TAVERN, or LATE NIGHT CATECHISM, or FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE!) and on national television Jewish-Catholic relationships have always been great comic fodder from Stiller and Meara in the 1960s to Walowitz and Bernadette on this week’s THE BIG BANG THEORY. So, are there any Jewish-Catholic jokes left? Surprisingly, a few are. This play is not the same-old, same-old. 

For whatever reason, on area stages, this May has turned out to be the month of older people getting back into dating. From I’M FINE at the Alleyway, to THE CEMETERY CLUB at O’Connell and Company, to THE OLD SETTLER at the Paul Robeson, to KALAMAZOO there are certain similarities in the way this is presented. The most striking is that older people are more direct. They once had something and they want it back. Now. They don’t have time for extended head games and so they get to talking about what they want faster and sooner rather than later.  

And, while it’s not completely the case in all the four plays listed, I would suggest that plays about younger people would need four characters, so that the two lovers could each confide in their “best friend.” Older people’s best friends may not be alive anymore, so they confide directly, face to face, with their love interest. That does tend to cut to the chase, to use a movie cliché. 

Older people’s best friends may not be alive anymore, so they confide directly, face to face, with their love interest.

Yet I had timing issues with this play. It seemed that “things” happened awfully fast. Given only 75 minutes (90 less an intermission) the playwrights probably felt compelled to get these two hooked up rather quickly. And there seemed to be an anachronism where earlier in the Peg and Irv were at the Four Seasons (a famous Manhattan restaurant) but later in the play they talk about Peg going to New York City for the first time. 

By the way, this play has one of the best soundtracks going (Chris Cavanagh, lighting and sound designer). Lots of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin hits along with Glenn Miller’s “Kalamazoo.” 

*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 over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), 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?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

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

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 was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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