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ON THE ROOF by Donna Hoke part of Buffalo theater “Stonewall Trifecta” (last reading tonight)

THE BASICS: ON THE ROOF, a play by Donna Hoke, co-presented by Post-Industrial Productions and Gay & Lesbian Youth Services of WNY, directed by Annise Celano. Admission is $15 and is a fund-raiser for PIP and GLYS of WNY. Final reading Saturday, June 29 at 7:30 at Trinity Episcopal Church, Christ Chapel (enter to the left of the courtyard) 371 Delaware Avenue.

Runtime: 2 hours with one intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The “framing device” for this play (which moves forward and backward several times) has a successful married gay couple (both doctors) looking at a Manhattan apartment in a building which has been completely rehabbed since a fire long ago. But not quite completely. As the older man touches a railing, magically we are transported back to the rooftop patio of a cabaret and secret gay bar in 1950’s New York run by a tough as nails lesbian singer with a heart of gold – Mitzi – who created a safe (by paying off the mob and the police) haven for “her guys,” as long as they behaved and didn’t attract attention. But, of course, nothing, good or bad, lasts forever.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Director Annise Celano has an impressive contact list (I used to say “Rolodex” but more and more that’s a historic term) and assembled a fine cast. For this reading,  Post-Industrial Productions President & Artistic Director Bob Van Valin  sits upstage at a computer running SFX and music (there are three good songs) while Matthew Chavez acts a “Stage Manager” (think of the play OUR TOWN) introducing the characters and briefly setting the scenes.

Mitzi as played by Maureen Anne Porter

Everyone was good, but, in the theater, it’s always special when acting experience and a juicy role converge and so my most memorable moments were scenes involving Mitzi as played by Maureen Anne Porter, Levi the Broadway composer as played by Elliot Fox (whose voice is so luscious that I would be happy to have him just read the phone book), and the World War II vet, Robert, played with great emotion by Mike Seitz.

Other roles were played by Dino Petrera, Len Mendez, Michael Breen, Paige Allison Donatelli, Tim Stuff, and Victor Morales. Speaking with the playwright at intermission, she said that this play required more research than others she’s written, because she wanted to get the history right. ON THE ROOF is primarily a story of what it was like to be gay from the end of World War II to the late 1950s.

To me, it was not about the “what-where-and-when” of the Stonewall Riots which began very late on the night of June 28, 1968, but more about the who and the why. And to that end, the play really worked perfectly. After two hours of getting to know these characters, your chest will be tight as you yearn for their “liberation.” And I use that word because it reminds me of the anthem “Stonewall Nation” written by Buffalo’s own Madeline Davis. You can hear two versions of the song sung by Ms. Davis here.

While the only mention of just the year 1969 comes in a brief monologue at the very end of the play, when it does come, the audience breaks into applause.

While the only mention of just the year 1969 comes in a brief monologue at the very end of the play, when it does come, the audience breaks into applause.

This reading is part of an informal “Stonewall Trifecta” with two other solid productions this weekend, all within walking distance. There’s BUA TAKES 10: STONEWALL EDITION (reviewed here) at The Alleyway Complex, this Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 up front at the Alleyway Cabaret (enter from Main Street) 672 Main (886-9239) www.buffalounitedartists.org.

And Saturday June 29 is the last night of THE SEAT NEXT TO THE KING at 8 p.m. (review here) at the New Phoenix Theatre, 95 Johnson Park (853-1334). www.newphoenixtheatre.org

A few “notes” as they say: The acoustics in the chapel are weird and those of us sitting in the middle to back of the seating area had a hard time hearing. Simply moving up to the first two rows at intermission solved that problem right away. So be advised. However, it would also be better if the actors each stood (instead of remaining seated) and came to the front of their stage to read. That would put characters engaged in dialog adjacent to each other also give them more freedom to use their entire bodies. For example, there’s a funny-but-poignant scene where the young bartender Cruz tells how his father tried to teach him how to stand in a “manly” way. The actor had to play that sitting down. But, as they say, “the play’s the thing” and this is one emotional roller coaster.

Photos courtesy Post-Industrial Productions

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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