THE BASICS: STRAIGHT, a play by Scott Elmegreen and Buffalo-born Drew Fornarola presented by Buffalo United Artists, starring Michael Seitz, Adam Hayes, and Cassie Gorniewicz runs through November 4, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 at the Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley (connecting Pearl and Main). (886-9239). www.buffalobua.org Email ticket requests to BuffaloBUA@gmail.comRuntime: 90 minutes without intermission. No one under 18 admitted (nudity, language, and explicit scenes).
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: As the tagline says: “Ben likes beer, sports, and Emily… and Chris.” Ben is successful, responsible, and hard-working in the financial world and, now in his late 20s, has had a very, very, very long-term relationship with PhD candidate Emily. She’s waiting for Ben to show some sign of commitment as in, say, marriage. But, Ben is conflicted. He likes men, sort of, well in particular college boy-toy Chris, but Ben absolutely does not want to be “gay.” He doesn’t want to be “out.” Even though America today is supposed to be “post-equality” Ben is sure that the world, at least his world, offers only the pretense of acceptance.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: BUA actor Michael Seitz plays unhappy, unfulfilled, torn up inside but damn, keep it all together whatever the cost kind of guys really well. And BUA’s Adam Hayes is equally adept at the opposite – playing the goofy free spirit with the cute butt. These are tried and true BUA performers who always deliver.
What keeps this production from being just another farce of mis-understandings is Javier Bustillos’s direction for Cassie Gorniewicz as Emily. She plays a very sympathetic character here. She could have been played as bossy and bitchy – “Marry me now, dammit” – or she could have been a clingy mousy loser academic waiting for her research mice to show a breakthrough while she waits for her boyfriend to break through whatever is holding him back. Instead she’s portrayed as a real person, a little of this now, a little of that at other times, but a nice, honest, open, welcoming, trusting young woman who, frankly, deserves better.
The situation is complex, but the set is simple as is often the case with BUA. The main piece of furniture is the couch, around which and on top of which the three characters revolve. The use of Taylor Swift’s song “Shake It Off” is very effective and even becomes part of the play.
The use of Taylor Swift’s song “Shake It Off” is very effective and even becomes part of the play.
One thing that prevents this from being just another play about a fellow who is conflicted with his sexuality is the context of being on stage in 2017. Chris the Millennial is totally comfortable with being out. Ben thinks Chris should shut up or at least keep his voice down. Emily applauds a fellow researcher who has come out and says she’s proud of him. Ben challenges Emily to explain why she is proud of her fellow student. (I see the seed of another play in that scene.) Is Emily just a “beard” to cover up Ben’s homosexuality? It’s complicated.
Photo credit: Buffalo United Artists | Playwright Fornarola with castmembers Seitz, Hayes, and Gorniewicz
*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!