THE BASICS: TALES OF THE DRIVEN, a play written and directed by Kurt Schneiderman, presented by Subversive Theatre, starring David Wysocki, Elliot Fox, Lawrence Roswell, and Nigel Williams continues through February 23, Thursdays to Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. at The Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Avenue., third floor (462-5549). www.subversivetheatre.org Runtime: Over two hours with one 15-minute intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: It’s England in the 1600s and this drama is reminiscent of the old “morality plays” popular at the time. While difficult to talk about the plot without spoiling many of the twists, in broad terms we soon learn of the drowning death of a young girl as we follow the path of her brother (Nigel Williams) whose father is a blacksmith (Elliot Fox), a man distrustful of outsiders, such as the traveling troupe of actors who arrive needing to have the wheel of their wagon fixed but whose presence ultimately stirs things up leading to unintended consequences and revelations. Indeed, the blacksmith has his reasons to want to maintain the status quo as does the local priest (Lawrence Roswell) for related (as we find out) but different and more evil purposes. The catalyst for the chain reaction is the boy but the fuel to get the fire started comes from an energetic and radical member of the troupe named Orion (David Wysocki).
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Some folks don’t like to read the program/playbill before a show, preferring to take it all in “cold” without any pre-judgement. They say that if the play is well crafted it should itself tell the story and supply any “background” information that might be needed.
For myself, I do like to read the program if the house manager provides enough light (which they usually do not) and in this case, with the Subversive Theater’s Founder and Artistic Director Kurt Schneiderman also being the playwright and director, I found the “Author/Director’s Notes” particularly enlightening.
He writes “When I was a teenager, my mother became terminally ill with cancer. She was a single mother of 3. I watched her work her guts out with everything against her. She worked harder than anyone else I knew so why was she left with so little?…. I took my over-worked terminally ill mother to a ‘cancer camp’ where a group called the ‘clowns for Christ’ or something like that put on a show that was (as best as I can remember) exactly like the one in our play – a pantomime show that told the beaten down to forgive their oppressors. As a budding young Marxist watching his mother die from years of exploitation, I longed for a good Orion [the lead character who speaks truth to power] to denounce their playlet with all the venom it deserved.”
When you mess with a guy’s mom, you’d better be ready for a fight.
I knew that there had to be something more visceral than an intellectual appreciation of protest theater driving Mr. Schneiderman. When you mess with a guy’s mom, you’d better be ready for a fight, and, indeed, we read in the program “About Subversive Theatre: Founded in 2002, The Subversive Theatre Collective is one of the world’s very few performance troupes devoted exclusively to radical political theatre. As Buffalo’s only year-round theatre, we’re proud to speak truth to power with a non-stop barrage of provocative, agitational, socially-relevant plays from the classics of protest theatre to cutting edge creations of today. Here art is NOT just another diversion for the privileged elite, it’s a weapon for the underdog with Molotov cocktails for all!”
Yep, that’s Subversive. Good for them.
If you’ve been to one of those “Renaissance Faires” then you’ll really enjoy this play. I must say that the aerial maneuvers of Sarah Sofia in the role of “Madame Cassiopia” were unique, and that Wysocki’s youthful energy and Fox’s big voice kept the audience engaged.
Unfortunately, for some reason the role of the boy, which is a major role, was given to an absolute newcomer with no stage experience. And, perhaps the traveling troupe was a little large, especially for the rather small Manny Fried stage. That was a problem, as was the repetition in the middle where the upcoming pantomime is discussed, and then acted out. It made the evening a little long. And, this is not just at Subversive but at other theaters too, having the playwright direct his or her own play is generally not a good idea. Theater is a collaborative effort and just as in lapidary, as the stones rub up against each other, they emerge more polished with fewer rough edges.
However, and I think this is important, the play stays with you. So give it a try.
Photos courtesy Subversive Theatre
*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!