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Characters exert power in strange ways in JOHN at Road Less Traveled Productions

Sara, Adam |Photo by Annie Baker

THE BASICS: JOHN, a play by Annie Baker, directed by David Oliver, starring Darleen Pickering Hummert, Priscilla Young Anker, Sara Kow Falcone, and Adam Yellen, opened on September 8 and runs through October 1, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 (September 15 at 8). Road Less Traveled Theater, 500 Pearl Street at Tupper (629-3069). Beer, wine, soda. Runtime almost 3 hours, including two (2) intermissions.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Elias Schreiber-Hoffman (played by Adam Yellen) and his girlfriend, Jenny Chung (Sara Kow-Falcone), visiting the Civil War battle site in Gettysburg, PA, stay at a B&B with mysterious “off limits” rooms run by Mertis Katherine Graven (Darleen Pickering Hummert) and Mertis’s (Kitty’s) friend Genevieve Marduk (Priscilla Young Anker). It’s all about relationships, but it’s also about being watched. Do we ever have control over that? There are strong auras and presences in the house, including three men never seen: Kitty’s ailing husband George, Genevieve’s ex-husband John, and another John who makes his presence known only by cell phone.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Across town, at Torn Space Theater, they’re asking the question: “How do you act if you know that you’re being watched?” In JOHN, at Road Less Traveled, people are watching, including a blind woman hidden in the shadows and an American Girl doll with a shadowy past. It’s creepy, but not in a horror movie way, and despite its length and the two intermissions, it holds your interest.

The direction by David Oliver is sure, even, completely believable, and with a very rigid “fourth wall” which is important here, because, yes, we the audience are watching, but it’s essential that we believe that the actors do not know that. What impressed me most about the direction was that, as long as this play is, it never dragged. That’s also partly due to the playwright who never has all four characters on stage together, so that things are constantly evolving and shifting.

Darleen, Priscilla, Sara | Photo by Annie Baker

The set by Dyan Burlingame is right up there with RLTP’s high standards, wonderfully complicated with the sort of tchotchkes one would expect at a Gettysburg B&B around the holidays, and perfectly constructed to allow three different entrance points (from outside, from the kitchen, and from the second floor rooms). And the sound is superior, too, designed by Katie Menke, with wonderful music by Johann Sebastian Bach (yet another John?) including “Erbarme Dich” (Have Mercy). Very inspired, Ms. Menke. And let’s give a hand to Stage Manager Lucas LLoyd for perfectly timed sound cues (not always the case at Buffalo theaters).

And the actors, sort of a Jewish Repertory Theatre goes on the road, are all old hands at relationship plays. Nice job all.

Next up: David Mamet’s powerful take on American businessmen, the award-winning GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS October 27 through November 19.

*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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