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SONS & LOVERS entertains sold-out house at Alleyway Cabaret

THE BASICS:  SONS & LOVERS, new a play by Donna Hoke presented by Buffalo United Artists, directed by Todd Fuller, starring Caitlin Baeumler Coleman, Steve Brachmann, A. Peter Snodgrass, and Dave Granville is only up for four more shows, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., plus Sunday October 1 at 7 (closing). Alleyway Theatre’s Main Street Cabaret, 672 Main Street (886-9239). Runtime: 90 minutes, eight scenes, without intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Even though everybody on the planet knows that Bill is gay, even his dad (“You don’t like girls, do you?”), “Billy” seems unable to come out to his mom, Ellen. Facing her 50thbirthday, after 29 years of lackluster marriage to the emotionally and physically distant Butch, she’d also like to come out… out of her repressed, middle class, small town housewife shell. The play opens as she is pressing her son Billy not only about the possibility of grandchildren someday, but more immediately if he’s bringing a date to her party, and he turns his lover, Marq, into the fictional “Marquesas” in a conversation devoid of pronouns. It’s pretty funny.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: I continue to be impressed by Caitlin Baeumler Coleman (Ellen), one of the finest actors we have in town. She so completely inhabits her roles that I always double check: is this the same actor who was “Carrie” the cancer patient in last season’s outstanding BUA production of STEVE? Is this the same woman who was Robert Shallow in SIDP’s THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR? Not to mention other fine recent performances over at New Phoenix Theatre in HARVEY and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. I swear it was five different people. How does she do that?

Well, some credit goes to the director, Todd Fuller, who helped create a very realistic, very consistent character on the eve of some big changes. Others might have taken this role too far. Here, Coleman and Fuller have it just right.

By the way, if the title sounds familiar, SONS AND LOVERS is the title of a famous novel by D.H. Lawrence about a mother, unsatisfied in her relationship with her husband, who is a bit too attached to her sons, who are themselves having relationship problems.

Speaking of sons, in the mother and son scenes between Ellen and Billy, Steve Brachmann is very comfortable, very natural, not at all theatrical, and so this central relationship seems rock solid, as it should be, to make the coming out, or not coming out, a very personal moment, not dictated by any outside agenda.

As Marq, Billy’s hot lover, A. Peter Snodgrass is so dazzlingly hunky that he could just stand there with his shirt on or off and read the phone book, but he is a wonderfully physical actor who presents a very real, multi-dimensional person without resorting to cliched gay stereotypes. Having said that, when he doubles as Pierre, the hot hairstylist, and Giancarlo, the hot waiter, well, those are sort of “magical realism” scenes, and director Fuller has Snodgrass push it (uh, literally and figuratively).

Snodgrass, who’s previously been in Rocking Horse community theater productions out at Lancaster Opera House, is a welcome addition to BUA.

Award winning local playwright Donna Hoke is certainly “the real deal,” completely immersed in the theatrical/literary scene and she’s been very, very busy.

Award winning local playwright Donna Hoke is certainly “the real deal,” completely immersed in the theatrical/literary scene and she’s been very, very busy. This summer I also attended a workshop production of Hoke’s HEARTS OF STONE and then later a reading of TEACH and so I can reassure you that we’re going to be enjoying her plays well into the future.

Overall, this is a play about relationships. Yes, it’s about coming out, but it’s also about making commitments of any kind. Is marriage a stable environment in which to safely express yourself and be fulfilled?  Or is it a ball and chain? Do mother and son both want the same thing out of life? When is it worth fighting to save a relationship and when is it time to go off to Paris to figure all this out.

*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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