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WAY BACK WHEN, “an Evening of One Acts,” at New Phoenix tells us the true story of The Creation, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac.

THE BASICS: WAY BACK WHEN: An Evening of One Acts, two by Grant Golden and one by Rebecca Ritchie, directed by Betsy Bittar, starring David Lundy, Pamela Rose Mangus, Kathleen Rooney, and Jon Summers, opened on February 2 and runs through the 24th, Thursdays (pay what you can), Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. at the New Phoenix Theatre, 95 Johnson Park (853-1334). Run time about 2 hours, with 3 plays and two 10-minute intermissions; beer, wine, and soda pop available.

Kathleen Rooney, Jon Summers, and Pamela Rose Mangus in “In the Beginning.”

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: These three plays by Jewish playwrights pull back the curtain on familiar Hebrew Bible / Pentateuch / (“Old Testament” to Christians) tales. The two plays by Grant Golden are CREATION which reveals the back story of God creating Earth (he wanted to enter it in a planetary design contest) and WAY BACK WHEN (God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a sort of Facebook “let’s see who my real friends are” test). The middle play, IN THE BEGINNING, the delight of the evening, introduces us to the character of Lilith, who meets the surviving widow Eve on a park bench while Eve is about to interviewed for a movie celebrating her late husband Adam. Lilith in very early Jewish writings is said to be Adam’s first wife and when two ex-wives meet, you know that the husband is not going to come out looking so good.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: To be fair, this evening got off to a rocky start. In fact, this was the second Golden play I’ve seen with a major last-minute substitution. Here, on opening night, we were told that the Production Stage Manager was indisposed, but “the show must go on” and things were a bit shaky.

Also, I must admit, I had a bit of a bad attitude just before curtain because I thought that we were going to see an evening of many more, shorter plays as one might in an evening of “Buffalo Quickies” at the Alleyway or “Desde El Puente” with Raíces Theatre. Instead we got only three. The two by Golden felt like Carol Burnett skits with extra dialog and went on way too long. Another problem with those two plays is that they are simply slight variations on Biblical origin myths, (that’s MYTHS, people) in other words, contemporary “stuff made up” about what Biblical scholars now believe was just “stuff made up” around the 5th century B.C.  I suppose if you believe that Moses himself wrote the book of Genesis and that it is “the word of God” then these plays might offer a naughty frissante.

If Adam were there, he’d probably say that she’s a she-devil! a dybbuk! THE Serpent of old!

Kathleen Rooney and Pamela Rose Mangus in “In the Beginning.”

Of the three plays, the one with a more original dramatic arc, not just a tweak on old myths, was the late Rebecca Ritchie’s IN THE BEGINNING which at first appears to be a standard skit of two ex-wives comparing notes, except that here, one of them is … what? What is Lilith (Adam’s first wife)? If Adam were there, he’d probably say that she’s a she-devil! a dybbuk! THE Serpent of old! Hard to say. So, as Eve waits on a park bench to be interviewed for a film documentary, Lilith slowly and slyly convinces her to drop the goodie-two-shoes act and tell it like it really was. After all, she tells Eve, “tell-alls” with juicy intimate details sell much better than boring eulogies. One question might be this: is Lilith (or The Serpent) speaking truth to power? Or is she promoting “fake news?” In this middle play of the three, Kathleen Rooney, as Eve, was allowed to start off as a mousey wife and slowly reveal little flashes of anger as she wakes up to her situation, and ultimately decides to stop living a lie.   

IN THE BEGINNING fit the theme of the evening, retelling old biblical stories, but I would highly recommend it being included in a festival of feminist plays and if anyone picks this up, I would cast Kathleen Rooney again as Eve. She was a delight.

*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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