THE BASICS: ROOMMATES, a new play by Buffalo’s award-winning Mark Humphrey, presented by American Repertory Theater of WNY, directed by Drew McCabe, starring Victor Morales, Michael Starzynski, and Brett Klaczyk opened September 7 and runs through September 23, Thursdays through Saturdays, all shows at 8:00 p.m. at “The 330 Performance Space,” 330 Amherst Street (adjacent to The Sportsmen’s Tavern). $20 General Admission, $15 Student/Military Veterans. Call or text 697-0837. www.artofwny.org Runtime: about 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Paul (Michael Starzynski) is a disgraced former stock broker with a gambling habit who has borrowed heavily from ruthless money lender Elliot (Brett Klaczyk). Elliot has given Paul 24 hours to repay the debt. To keep Paul “safe” Elliot has assigned his “muscle” Booke (Victor Morales) to stay with Paul while he attempts to beg or borrow the cash from former associates.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Every Buffalo theater has its mission/style/genre and for the American Repertory Theater of Western New York (ART) plays about B-movie low-lives who might inhabit a Quentin Tarantino film are right down their dark alley.
At ART plays we go inside the day-to-day lives of what they used to call “the criminal element.” We meet real people, just like us, who thought they were in control of their own lives, making choice after choice, justifying the results of those choices, but who now find themselves in a world quite different from what they expected when they were younger.
Without a doubt, this play was perfectly cast. In order of appearance, Michael Starzynski presents as a good-looking guy whom we can believe was a wheeler-dealer stock broker / high stakes poker player but has let himself fall apart. He’s nervous, skittish, sweaty, and overweight. ART newcomer Brett Klaczyk was a little uneven as Elliot, the man with the cash, but was appropriately smooth talking with more than a hint of malice. And Victor Morales is very nuanced as the big guy whose meandering career path has led him into the intimidation business.
The set design by Matthew LaChiusa was appropriate except for a large graphic on the side wall. I guess they just needed something big to fill the space. Director Drew McCabe blocked his characters well. The ART stage is tiny, so it’s a ballet to keep things from being too static, and this kept moving. The costumes by Elaine Heckler for Paul and Booke were spot on, but Elliot’s suit coat didn’t quite fit him. High-end, contemporary fashion, particularly men’s suits, has always been a challenge for theatrical costumers with low budgets. There’s no way to fake an Armani suit.
I went on opening night for this new play, and there were some issues, and definitely some questions, but we can imagine that it will smooth out. When you go, remember that ART shares a wall with a country rock club, so, just as with last season’s apartment based A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE you’ll have to imagine that Paul’s apartment is, as they playbill says: “Anyplace, USA (next to a country rock club).”
Also, if you go, remember that YOU ARE ALLOWED TO LAUGH if a character says something funny. I don’t know why Buffalo audiences are so stiff. I sat next to the playwright, Mark Humphreys, and even he chuckled at some of his own lines. People…. it’s okay.
Rating: Two and a half Buffalos
*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!