THE BASICS: This offbeat comedy/drama by Will Kern, from the new PollyAnna Productions, is having its WNY premiere at the American Repertory Theater, 330 Amherst Street, weekends through December 16th. John F. Kennedy directs a cast of seven. The show, with its single intermission, runs about 90 minutes.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: HELLCAB, a string of vignettes, gives us a long, crazy day (Christmas Eve) in the life of a young Chicago cabbie. His various passengers, highly eclectic, provide the grist for this scattershot tale.
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: While I applaud the efforts of all concerned to give us something different for the holidays, I cannot say that I am all that taken by the Will Kern script. It’s a thing of bits and pieces, some of which are so short that they are over before they can even be properly thought about. There are two connected episodes in the second act, however, and I found this much more satisfying. Old fuddy duddy that I am, I appreciate even the semblance of a plot!
This is not to say that the writing is bad; HELLCAB certainly has its moments! The wild ride-to-the-hospital of a ready-to-pop expectant mom and her panicky mate is pretty darn hilarious, and well put over by Aqueira Roberts and Shabar Shabazz Rouse. Would that they had ended the first act with it! The play works best when the various characters are arguing at the top of their lungs, erupting in profanities and thrashing about wildly. Here we see director Kennedy at his lively best. The quieter, potentially poignant episodes tend to be a little… dull.
The play works best when the various characters are arguing at the top of their lungs, erupting in profanities and thrashing about wildly.
Part of the problem is that, although some sound effects have been included, this play needs a whole lot more sound. The constant thrumming of the taxi’s engine, the vroom of acceleration, the screech of turning wheels, horns beeping, sirens and street noises of all kinds would have provided some much needed energy when the cast isn’t “letting it all hang out”. The sense of our being in the heart of a living, breathing, dangerous city just isn’t coming across.
Nick Lama, one of Buffalo’s best young actors, turns in a fine performance as our protagonist–a pretty decent, low key guy struggling with some pretty indecent, and periodically outrageous, customer behavior. What heart there is in this production is thanks to Lama. Roberts, Rouse, Emily Styn, Richard Kraemer, Catherine Burkhart, and Thorin Vallentin do well, on the whole, with playwright Kern’s big bag of caricatures.
Kudos to director Kennedy for finding and dissecting an old yellow cab, and cannibalizing it for successful reuse on the intimate ART stage. (I’m sorry, though, that the old flag-style fare meter was not included; it really would have added!) The bold, suggestively spray-painted graffiti on the back walls and curtains is another nice touch.
IN SUM: Here’s something truly different for the holidays! A string of random-seeming vignettes, HELLCAB is hit and miss, but occasionally very funny, and has been presented with genuine enthusiasm by director Kennedy and company. For those of you with Christmas Carol Fatigue, this might well be worth a look…
*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!