THE BASICS: BUFFALO QUICKIES, the 28th annual festival of one-act plays, directed by Joyce Stilson, Samantha Marchant, Stephanie Riso, and Carly Weiser, starring Stephanie Bax, Dylan Brozyna, Jaimee Harmon, Shawnell Tillery, Mike Starzynski, and Andrew Zuccari opened on April 11 and runs through May 4, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. at the Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley (the walkway from Pearl to Main Streets behind Shea’s) (852-2600). www.alleyway.com Runtime: 90 minutes including one intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Back for their 28th season, produced by the Alleyway Theatre which has a long and strong tradition of mounting new works, we get eight shorts, five before intermission and three after, played by an ensemble of six able “character” actors who get into their roles quickly. Last year reviewing the 27th annual Quickies I made the comparison to watching eight SNL skits. Again, this year, just as when watching SNL, some are funny, some leave you scratching your head (“what the hell was that about?”) and two made me wish they would appear later on YouTube so that I could share them with friends.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: As the “3 Buffalo” rating system explains, “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.” So, what are you in for?
ONE MAN SHOW by Mike Randall, directed by Samantha Marchant, has the rubber faced Mike Starzynski in, according to his bio, his 13th Quickies (starting in 1997!) portraying an actor, bathed in flop sweat, harassed by his lifelong gadfly, “Her” played by Stephanie Bax. Pretty funny.
THE ARRANGEMENT by Jennifer Tromble, directed by Quickies Festival director Joyce Stilson, features one of those incredibly awkward dinner parties where the two exes (Dylan Brozyna and Jaimee Harmon) meet each-others current flames (Shawnell Tillery and Andrew Zuccari). What could possibly go wrong? Brozyna and Harmon play the heavies so that Tillery and Zuccari (who appear again in the final play) can show their excellent comic chops. Satisfying.
OVER THE TEARS by Mark C. Lloyd, also directed by Joyce Stilson, finds the lovelorn Hugh (Starzynski) being counseled by the embodiment of love herself (Harmon), complete with flaming red dress. Cute, but a little repetitious.
WHO’S AFRAID OF DONALD TRUMP by Justin Karcher, again also directed by Stilson has Mike (Zuccari) and his puppet (made from an old sock worn by Mike’s blue-collar old-school dad) confront his issues and his wife (Bax). Promising concept, but nowhere near as hard-hitting as it should have been given that the name of our current Psychopath-in-Chief is in the title. Meh.
STARTING OUT STRONG (lead image) by Samantha Marchant, directed by Carly Weiser, was the perfect choice just before intermission – short, punchy, and funny leaving the audience wanting more. Barry (Starzynski) sitting on a bench finds himself next to Matilda (Tillery), obviously “out of his league” but, man, he boldly goes, and by gosh, shows us all how it’s done. Very clever and one of the two quickies that I wish were on YouTube to show people.
The other “wish this were one social media” quickie was right after intermission. Called A WORK BREAK DOWNTOWN, it has the two Statues of Liberty which grace the top of Buffalo’s Liberty Building at Main and Court, one facing West (played by Jaimee Harmon who is white) and one facing the East Side of Buffalo (played by Shawnell Tillery, who is African-American). As they lower their lamps and step down for a break, they talk about what they see and what they think about. West sees “The Buffalo Renaissance” while East continues to see urban blight and political neglect. East keeps asking questions in hopes that West might be at all “woke” but, even though that’s not happened yet, they remain at least “work friends” as they return to their pediments and turn their backs on one another. This was the winner of this year’s “Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition 2018 One Act Category,” and was the audience favorite. Now, thanks to costume designer James Cichocki, both Ms. Harmon and Ms. Tillery will have politically timely Hallowe’en costumes this fall, although they might have to check with Props Acquisition team Bruce Dejaiffe and Joyce Stilson about borrowing those fantastic lamps.
Then things got a little too “concept-y” for me with plays first by a Ph.D. candidate and then one by a Canisius College Professor of Religion. Bella Poynton’s ELEVEN THINGS THAT ALMOST HAPPENED TO RICK AND HANNAH… AND ONE THING THAT ACTUALLY DID, directed by Joyce Stilson, finds hapless Hannah (Stephanie Bax) and disarrayed Rick in a higgledy-piggledy existence dictated by (gathering from the typewriter SFX) some unseen playwright playing God with their topsy-turvy lives. Actually, as I write this, I’m warming up to the play more and more, but there was something off-putting about the way they swirl on stage as the winds of fate (or the unseen playwright) send them careening about.
The final play was THE CREDIBLE ADVENTURES OF PYLON AND THUNDERTHIGHS, a mixed-up couple who are the world’s least productive cat burglars (to the dismay of Pylon) but do end up destroying a lot of “skinny art” (to the delight of the body-shamed Thunderthighs). With differing agendas they continue to head out each night wearing their own home-made super-hero costumes (complete with masks) – she in black tights and he in an orange and silver (think construction pylon) sort of jump-suit. The actors, Tillery and Zuccari, were wonderful and engaging, but I’d been in the theater awhile and was ready to go. So, for me, this was a “meh” but my wife sitting next to me loved the costumes, the concept, the acting and thought it was the perfect way to end the evening’s performances. De gustibus non est disputandum. (“In matters of taste there can be no dispute.”)
Photos courtesy Alleyway Buffalo Quickies
UP NEXT: An “immersive theater experience,” GIRLS WHO WALKED ON GLASS during which the Alleyway Theatre is transformed into a series of rooms into which audience members will be led as true stories intertwine to expose a dangerous world for young women who are ill-prepared to meet its challenges and temptations. GIRLS WHO WALKED ON GLASS will run from May 30 to June 22, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. (NOTE: May 30, 31 and June 1 performances are by invitation only! Regular admission is available for all other performances.) Tickets for all performances will go on sale soon but will be limited to only 20 patrons per evening.
Looking way down the road, the Alleyway promises new full-length works coming in June 2020 from the newly formed (2018) “Alleyway Theatre’s Playwrights Circle” (currently comprised of playwrights Lloyd, Poynton, Snodgrass, and Trumble).
*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!