THE BASICS: THE RAIN DOGS PROJECT, seven one acts based on the music of Tom Waits, presented by American Repertory Theater of WNY, directed by Katherine Burkhart, Jack Kreuzer, and Nick Lama, starring Candice Kogut, both Jack and John Kreuzer, Carly Luksch, Gary Andrews-Stieglitz, and Courtney Maj with music performed by Pheobe Herreid and Jack Kreuzer runs through May 26, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm. NOTE: NEW VENUE: Alleyway Cabaret, Main Street (697-0837). www.artofwny.org Runtime: a little under two hours with one intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Tom Waits, despite his personal success (Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 100 singers and Top 100 songwriters, Academy Award nomination) writes songs about personal tragedies, loves lost, people who are down and out, and the seedy side of life with a gravelly voice that fits his persona. His song “Jersey Girl” (part of the evening) has been covered by Bruce Springsteen, and if you like early Springsteen, you’ll like Tom Waits. So, in THE RAIN DOGS PROJECT, several local playwrights have written one act plays that flow together seamlessly, not so much plot driven as thick with the smoky atmosphere that pervades Tom Waits’ world.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: We went on opening night, which was held in the Jim Bush studios on 17th Street, the site of a former mattress factory, where the industrial atmosphere has been perfect in the past for such dark, disturbing Red Thread Theater productions as LOUISIANA BACCHAE and THE UNFORTUNATES. And, indeed, the space worked brilliantly for ART’s dark, disturbing THE RAIN DOGS PROJECT. That is, until the second night of the production, when, apparently, fifteen minutes into the show, a City of Buffalo Fire Marshall shut the production down.
So, once again, American Repertory Theater had to pull up stakes and move, but they have found temporary shelter from the rain huddled in the doorway (“Inside a broken clock / Splashing the wine / With all the Rain Dogs / Taxi, we’d rather walk /Huddle a doorway with the Rain Dogs / For I am a Rain Dog, too”) of the “Alleyway Cabaret,” the smaller theater space at the Main Street end of the Alleyway Theatre.
If you require clear delineations when you go to the theater – the lights dim, the curtain goes up, the stage is the stage and the lobby is the lobby, well, you’re going to have to let that go. Not unlike the musical ONCE, It’s not quite clear when the show starts, and the stage bar is the lobby bar, and actress Candace Kogut is both your bartender “in real life” and also in the plays. But sometime around 8:00 p.m. “The Rain Dogs” – Pheobe Herreid (keyboard and vocals) and Jack Kreuzer (electric guitar and vocals, and an actor for the play JERSEY GIRL) start playing, and Candace Kogut becomes the sole performer in John F. Kennedy’s FUNERAL WATER (inspired by the Waits’ album “Real Gone”) in which she muses about life and love. This flows seamlessly into the play JERSEY GIRL by James A. Marzo with a bit of meta-theatricality in which Jack Kreuzer puts down his guitar and steps into the set to take on the role of a guitarist in a bar who is now hitting on the bartender. Then Jack Kreuzer sings a music number “Hope I Don’t Fall in Love with You” (“…Before the evening’s gone away, I think that we could make it / And I hope that I don’t fall in love with you / I can see that you are lonesome just like me, and it being late / You’d like some company …”). That song comes from Waits’ first album “Closing Time” and, indeed, we move seamlessly right into the play CLOSING TIME by Ross McFarlane in which John Kreuzer, dressed as Tom Waits, also hits on the bartender. I think it adds something to know that, in real life, John is Jack’s father.
Following intermission, the entire tone of the evening changes…
Following intermission, the entire tone of the evening changes (for a bit) with the introduction of the angular actor Gary Andres-Stieglitz (who played a very scary Herod in ART’s recent JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR) as an unhappy PTSD suffering soldier in LUCE by Matthew LaChiusa, and that scariness builds in the paranoiac WHAT’S HE BUILDING IN THERE, a play by Bella Poynton. And then…. we’re back to the bar, and it’s late, it’s smoky, IT’S COLD AND THERE’S NO MUSIC is the final play, by Matthew LaChiusa, based on the Waits’ song “Hold On” (“Well, he gave her a dimestore watch / And a ring made from a spoon… “) and it looks as if the Tom Waits-like character played by John Kreuzer and the bartender played by Candace Kogut are going to come to “an understanding.”
For Curtain Up! Candice Kogut directs the 2014 musical HEATHERS that deals with issues of bullying, violence, teen suicide, and murder … perfect ART material, I’d say.
*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!