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THE GOLDEN GIRLS: LOST EPISODES, HOLIDAY EDITION even with advantage of famous franchise, falls flat

THE BASICS: THE GOLDEN GIRLS: LOST EPISODES, HOLIDAY EDITION, a comedy by David Cerda, with an almost all-male cast, directed by Todd Warfield runs through December 28, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 (no performance December 26). All shows are sold-out except for a recently added extra performance on Sunday, December 22 at 7pm. All shows are at the Alleyway Cabaret, 672 Main Street (852-2600) www.alleyway.com Enter off Main (not the alleyway) Runtime: 90 minutes including one intermission (wine and soft drinks available).

The playwright, David Cerda, whose Chicago-based “Hell in a Handbag Productions” (HIAH) specializes in campy send-ups is “dedicated to the preservation, exploration, and celebration of works ingrained in the realm of popular culture via theatrical productions through parody, music and homage.” He also created POSEIDON! AN UPSIDE-DOWN MUSICAL. The HIAH website implies that there’s always a possibility for future editions of GOLDEN GIRLS: THE LOST EPISODES.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The set-up is taken right from the late ‘80s “The Golden Girls” television show, where the familiar characters Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia (played on stage respectively by Guy Tomassi, Joey Bucheker, Michael Blasdell, and Jessica K. Rasp) all share a house. After an audience sing-along to “Thank You for Being A Friend” the show starts, and we find “the girls” are dealing with Rose’s innocent belief in Santa Claus. The play, like the TV show, is made up of short scenes, most ending with a punchline or a physical “reveal” followed by a quick fade to black. Two actors (Tim Goehrig and A. Peter Snodgrass) play various “utility” roles as announcer, game show host, Santa, gangster, and an aerobics instructor in skin-tight lycra. During the evening there are two “and now a word from our sponsor” moments and two audience participation “Golden Girls trivia” contests.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: A generation ago, the treasured Buffalo News critic, John Dwyer, would always refrain from openly criticizing a bad performance, especially so if the performers were locals. Instead, readers would get a history lesson. So, here’s a history lesson (with help from Wikipedia).

“The Golden Girls” was an American comedy television series created by Susan Harris that aired on NBC from September 14, 1985, to May 9, 1992, with a total of 180 half-hour episodes spanning seven seasons. The show starred Betty White, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty and Beatrice (Bea) Arthur as three widows and one divorcée who shared friendship and a home in Miami. The show’s theme song was “Thank You for Being A Friend.”

The owner of the house was a widow named Blanche Devereaux (McClanahan), a Southern lady with a great sex drive. After putting an ad on a bulletin board at the local grocery store, she was joined by fellow widow Rose Nylund (White), a dotty transplant from rural Minnesota, and a divorcée named Dorothy Zbornak (Arthur), a somewhat dour lady who had been a teacher. The three were then joined by Dorothy’s 80-year-old mother, Sophia Petrillo (Getty), after the retirement home where she had been living burned down. And when things went wrong, they ate cheesecake.

But, if you are like most of the middle-aged suburban female audience who surrounded me in the theater, you already know all of that and I’m sure a whole lot more. Based on the audience on the 4th night of this play’s run I believe that what’s drawing many people to this play is not mainly a desire to see men in drag nor a repressed desire for a “naughty” experience, nor a desire for something campy in the winter, but simply a deep and abiding love for the television series and a desire to spend time once again with much-loved characters.

And so I believe that a great opportunity to draw in a new audience, to get people to realize that there’s more to The Theatre District than just Shea’s Performing Arts Center, to generate positive word of mouth for the Alleyway Theatre, is being squandered. Instead of generating good will for the audience, I think that this production depended on and used up the good will that brought the audience to the production.

The play itself is lightweight. While many one-act plays provide 90 to 105 minutes of compelling content, this was a two-act play which only provided, once you subtract intermission, about 70 minutes of content, which consisted primarily of double entendres, parceled out in a rather stingy manner. I think that playwright Cerda was lazy on this one. He “borrowed” the characters, their names, their personalities and foibles. Their entire 180-episode back story was available to him. All Cerda had to do was be funny and write lots of gags. He had one job….

On the bright side, the costumes and wigs by the Alleyway’s resident designer James Cichocki (who is currently playing in A CHRISTMAS CAROL on the Alleyway’s other stage) were spot on, and the casting, while uneven, had some delights. Guy Tomassi was fabulous as Dorothy and Joey Bucheker (who himself is the creator of the drag persona “Betsy Carmichael”) was also a joy to watch as Rose. Unfortunately, the ensemble timing was awful. Jessica K. Rasp as Sophia was always a half-beat too late and Michael Blasdell tripped over some lines and then completely forgot others. I realize that the performance space is not ideal, but the entrances and exits were less campy and more clunky.

Actor A. Peter Snodgrass gave it his best shot, but I was very disappointed at the misuse of the usually wonderful Tim Goehrig whose recent Artie-nominated role in PARADE and then the title role in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN let him show off his talents. Here, the material provided was either lame or poorly directed. At one point the audience breathed a sigh of relief when he wisely cut the on-stage skit as Jeopardy host short. What a shame.

There have been bad plays in the Alleyway complex before, but at those times there was an overriding redeeming purpose or value to the production, often a worthy cultural, social, or political agenda. The only agenda of THE GOLDEN GIRLS: THE LOST EPISODES, HOLIDAY EDITION was simply to entertain and be funny and that’s great. We all need shows like that. But while it had its moments, given that so much was available to work with, there was a huge missed opportunity here to deliver so much more.

If this were a college revue, that would be one thing. But people paid $25 a ticket (which I know is incredibly affordable compared to other venues, but still…) and the audience deserved better.

UP NEXT: FACTORY FOR MURDERERS, a new play by Scott McCrae, directed by Chris Handley, about Jack the Ripper, runs January 16, 2020 through February 8.

Also note that there are acting classes for adults (Adult Acting 101, 201, and 301) as well as an intensive workshop for teens and also a playwrighting class, all in February 2020. Visit their website alleyway.com

Lead image: The GOLDEN GIRLS cast, L-R Rasp, Bucheker, Tomassi, Blasdell | Source – Chris Handley

*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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