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Brazen Faced Varlets’ THE SECRETARY script needs more development and fewer plot threads

THE BASICS:  THE SECRETARY, a comedy by new playwright Kyle John Schimdt presented by The Brazen-Faced Varlets, with an all-woman crew and cast featuring Heather Fangsrud, Stefanie Warnick, Davida Tolbert, Jeannine Giffear, Jamie Nablo, and Caroline Parzy-Sanders directed by Lara D. Haberberger has three more shows – Saturday April 6 and 13 at 8 p.m. plus (Palm) Sunday April 14 at 2 p.m. at the Alleyway Theatre’s Main Street Cabaret, 672 Main Street (enter off Main) (598-1585). There is a discount for patrons who donate feminine hygiene products. Runtime: over two hours with one intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: From NPX, the National New Play Network: “Ruby runs a small-town gun company that aims to protect women by helping them protect themselves. With products like ‘The Bridesmaid,’ ‘The Babysitter,’ and ‘The Mallwalker,’ each of the company’s guns is named after a woman who used a gun and saved a life–more often than not, her own. When an elderly secretary at the local high school confronts a threat in her office with six bullets, Ruby responds by naming her latest gun after the reluctant hero: ‘The Secretary.’ But as production begins on ‘The Secretary,’ guns start going off all around town–and no one’s pulling the trigger. THE SECRETARY is an offbeat comedy about safety, survival, and guns for a world that’s up in arms.”

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: The topic of guns in America is multi-faceted and every person has his or her own relationship to guns, or at least to gun owners, who may be dear friends and family. That’s the case for both the director of THE SECRETARY, Lara D. Haberberger, and for the playwright, Kyle John Schmidt, whose own mother is an avid gun shooter and collector, although he is, obviously, neither.

However, sometimes “multi” in “multi-faceted” means “just too damn many.” Thinking of the famous tag line to a late 50s-early 60s television series: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” There must be eight million stories about guns in America, but we don’t have to put all of them into one play on one night. Obviously, the playwright disagrees.

Stefanie Warnick is Fight Choreographer although her role is April, who is anti-gun | Photo courtesy Brazen Faced Varlets

There are six characters on stage in this play, and at least four more who are important but not seen, and each one of those ten has a story that is worthy of his or her own play. With all the personal tragedy in this play, much of it told in “back story” both playwright Schmidt or director Haberberger have pulled back from letting each person’s sorrow overwhelm the action, but in the end, there are just too many threads to pull together.

Another way to describe my problem with this play is that we learn as much about each character as you would learn about a co-worker in the lunchroom. In other words, we hear a stream of situational highlights (so and so’s pregnant, that one’s husband lost his job, her son got in an accident) but that goes on for over two hours. And when we do pull back the curtain on each person’s private sorrow, that moment is just one of many, many other “moments.”

There are strong performances and not-so-strong performances, but in a play with so many elements coming so quickly at you, each performance should have been spot on. Highlights of the evening were delivered by actresses who, and I mean this is the best way, seem to “specialize” in projecting certain types. Heather Fangsrud as “Lorrie” can go deep and dark fast, coming off of a recent reprise as the suicidal “Jessie” in ‘NIGHT, MOTHER as well as her one-woman play about escaping religious fundamentalism titled KNOCK, KNOCK JESUS CALLING (which will reprise as Brazen Faced Varlets’ 2019 “Curtain Up” offering). As “Lorrie” she kills raccoons and photocopy machines with equal sangfroid, so don’t take your eyes off her for too long.

Jamie Nablo plays “Brandy,” a distraught “trailer trash” mother, with that abused vulnerability that made her such as standout in recent productions such as the title character in CINDERELLA not to mention one of the most physically battered victims I’ve ever seen on stage as Macduff’s wife in SIDP’s MACBETH.

And Stefanie Warnick as April the self-righteous, educated gun protester channels the questionable over confidence of such previous roles as her “Desdemona” in A PLAY ABOUT A HANDKERCHIEF and “Miss Georgia”/“George Washington” in THE TAMING.

There are subtleties and back stories and mitigating circumstances galore for each of those three, and we haven’t even mentioned the gun factory owner, her office manager, nor the school secretary, nor the characters never seen such as Eldon and his stroke-victim wife or Brandy’s son or April’s husband, each of whom could warrant a play unto themselves.

Gun control is a timely topic that deserves discussion and The Brazen Faced Varlets are a troupe that deserves support, but this problematic script needs a little more development along the lines of “less is more.”

Lead image: THE SECRETARY cast requests patrons to bring Menstruation Supplies to donate | Photo credit: Heather Fangsrud

*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 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, 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?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

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 has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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