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WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA: Flashbacks in the Fog pushes some boundaries at Rust Belt Books (two shows left).

THE BASICS: WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA: Flashbacks in the Fog, 6 new short plays (and one video) all by WNY playwrights Michael Fanelli, Mark C. Lloyd, Darryl Schneider, John Elston, Matt Boyle, and j. Snodgrass, presented by Buffalo Writers’ Theater, opened on Saturday, June 16th with two shows remaining, Saturday, June 23 at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, June 24 at 2 at Rust Belt Books, 415 Grant Street (a few blocks south of Forest Avenue) (652-6719). Runtime: 90 minutes including one intermission (an opportunity to browse one of Buffalo’s most interesting bookstores).

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Similar to the annual “Buffalo Quickies” at the Alleyway Theatre (two to four-person casts in new works lasting about ten minutes each) and very similar to last year’s GODOT RODEO in style, these plays were all deliberate attempts to use flashbacks to tell a story or to reveal the truth about the past. (“Flashbacks are in color; memories are in black and white” is a line from one of the plays). And, just as at the Alleyway’s QUICKIES, most of the plays are “meta” as in metaphysical (“concerned with abstract thought or subjects, as existence, causality, or truth…highly abstract, subtle, or abstruse” – or “metatheatrical” (“aspects of a play that draw attention to its nature as drama or theatre, or to the circumstances of its performance” – Wikipedia). Bottom line, while there are many laughs, this is more “experimental theater” and certainly not mainstream entertainment in the tiny back room of Rust Belt Books on Grant Street, our local equivalent of off-off-off-Broadway.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: As it turned out, there was more in common with the Alleyway’s QUICKIES than just the format. Playwrights J. (or j. as he now goes by) Snodgrass and Matt Boyle were on both bills, as was actor Andrew Zuccari whom I would like to recommend highly. He does not present on stage as “actorly.” In contrast, when you first see him he looks like the guy they asked to stand in for the “real” actor while they adjusted the lights. But long after the show, his performances (GODOT RODEO, KILLER RACK, BUFFALO QUICKIES, WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA) stay with you. He has an easy comfort in his own skin that I imagine most actors would die to have. Worth checking out.

I would also like to recommend actress Kate Olena who lends her considerable talents to re-creating two characters (Mrs. Webb and Stage Manager in a re-telling of OUR TOWN called TOWNIES) and who, like Zuccari, lends an easy grace to the performances.

Here is my quick summary of the plays:

WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA, written and directed by Michael Fanelli, presents a kaleidoscope of flashbacks in a jumbled re-telling of the beloved movie, which itself had the famous flashback sequence showing Bogart and Bergman in Paris.

HE IS…HE SAID, written and directed by Mark C. Lloyd has a couple demonstrate how, ever since attending a Neil Diamond concert, the husband, between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., “becomes” the singer and wakes his wife with songs. It’s a little like the movie “Groundhog Day” except that the growth seems to come in the form of the wife’s acceptance.

DOMINATRIX OF A SALESMAN written by Darryl Schneider, directed by Steven Brachman builds on one flashback scene in one of the most iconic of flashback plays, Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN. Schneider reimagines the scene where Biff walks in on Willie who is “entertaining” a woman in his hotel room and only here that woman is a dominatrix, “punishing” Willie for being a failure. And, there’s a surprise ending.

ENTER BOZO AND F***Y, written and directed by Matt Boyle, begins as did one of last year’s plays presented by the Buffalo Writers’ Theatre, with the two main characters from WAITING FOR GODOT, Vladimir and Estragon, sitting near the barren tree, but once again they are Buffalo Bills football fans Stan and Mike, eating pizza, lamenting that there’s “Nothing to be done.” Last year, it was “wide right.” Nothing to be done about that. This year it’s that there’s nothing to be done about the laundry list of the ten failed Buffalo coaches since Marv Levy, although each one, from Wade Phillips through the current Sean McDermott, was hailed as the savior of the franchise (with, I believe, Steve Brachmann as the off-stage and uncredited television announcer). And, instead of the original Pozzo on his way to the market to sell his slave Lucky, we get F***y, the slave, and the master Bozo, a Donald Trump-like character who offers economic salvation among other empty promises. “Nothing to be done?” is the central question here.

RANDOLPH’S CLOCK, written and directed by j. Snodgrass is perhaps more about memories, or false memories, or stories that are not quite true but are comforting and are what we want to hear. If you go, it might help to know that it’s about a watch, not a clock, a minor element, but confusing, at least to me.

TOWNIES, written, directed, and using puppets created by Michael Fanelli was the final play, based on the ultimately unhappy “return” of Emily to Grover’s Corners in Thornton Wilder’s play OUR TOWN, an iconic American play which, like DEATH OF A SALESMAN, is told through flashbacks, as narrated and set up by the Stage Manager.

There is also a pre-intermission feature, a video called “Elstonland Diaries” written, performed, and directed by Jon Elston that I didn’t “get” but your results may vary and I suspect that if you are a “Gen Xer” you might quite enjoy it.

UP NEXT: While the “Buffalo Writers’ Theater” company has nothing specific lined up, remember that Rust Belt Books is also home to the recently Artie-nominated “Brazen Faced Varlets” troupe which puts on edgy, envelope-pushing plays. Also, remember that a number of people involved in WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA count Road Less Traveled Productions as their home while others are involved with The Alleyway Theatre, all good places to seen contemporary plays.

*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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