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THE ANASTASIA TRIALS IN THE COURT OF WOMEN gets big laughs as the Brazen Faced Varlets touch on serious subjects using a “play within a play” format

THE BASICS: THE ANASTASIA TRIALS IN THE COURT OF WOMEN, a courtroom drama by Carolyn Gage presented by The Brazen-Faced Varlets, directed by Lara D. Haberberger, starring Jennifer Arroyo, Heather Fangsrud, Jessie Miller, Jamie Nablo, Caroline Parzy-Sanders, Emily Pici, Kathleen Rooney, Stefanie Warnick, and Priscilla Young-Anker runs through February 2, Friday and Saturday at 8, plus Sunday, February 2, at 2 at Alleyway’s Cabaret, 672 Main Street  (598-1585). Use the Main Street entrance. Runtime: 2 hours with one intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  On July 17, 1918, Grand Duchess Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Nicholas II (the last Tsar of Imperial Russia) was murdered by Bolsheviks along with her father, mother, and siblings. But for years rumors persisted that somehow Anastasia had escaped, and over those years many who claimed the title were denounced as imposters. But what if one was not an imposter? The trial presents a case against five women who betrayed another woman claiming to be Anastasia. Quoting from the Brazen-Faced Varlets publicity: “The Anastasia Trials is a farcical, but profoundly engaging excursion into the hidden world of ethics for women who are both survivors and perpetrators of abuse toward women. The format is a play-within-a-play, where a radical feminist theatre company comes together in order to perform a courtroom drama. The play is shaped by the [women in the] audience’s decisions to overrule or sustain the attorneys’ motions, and every night’s audience sees a different play.”


Things get serious, but not as dark as this photo suggests, with L-R Fangsrud, Nablo, Rooney, Young-Anker, Arroyo, Parzy-Sanders, and Warnick

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: The laughter begins right from the start as the shy and reluctant Betty (Heather Fangsrud) is getting bossed around by the mouthy Marie (Jamie Nablo), a radical feminist with a hair trigger and little tolerance for compromise. It turns out that every night each member of “The Emma Goldman Theater Brigade” draws the name of her character (her role) from a hat, ensuring equitable distribution of both starring and supporting roles. Interesting concept, but the devil is in (besides Marie) the details.

Soon enough though, roles get sorted out and a sort of trial begins where five different women are accused of “betraying” Anastasia. And, in this “play within a play” format, we are also witness to several woman-to-woman microaggressions and a few spectacular major aggressions. It did not feel scripted, but very real, and very much so when the players seem to “go off script” and the other players react to that.

We are presented with sensitive, hot-button topics that are very much of our contemporary world.

We are presented with sensitive, hot-button topics that are very much of our contemporary world. I believe that it works so well because it was written by, directed by, acted by women. And not just any women, but by the radical feminist theater troupe, the Brazen Faced Varlets. The show is stage-managed by Leyla Gentil with costumes designed by Rachel Maggs.

One of the reasons that this show works so well is the casting. The stage is populated with experienced actors who really like each other and have on-stage history together. Jennifer Arroyo, BFV founding member Heather Fangsrud, Jamie Nablo, Caroline Parzy-Sanders, Stefanie Warnick (who also did the fight choreography), and Priscilla Young Anker have all worked on BFV projects together. But even those who have not been in a Varlets production before, Jessie Miller, Emily Pici, and Kathleen Rooney, have all previously worked with other members of the cast.

L-R Warnick, Rooney, Nablo, Parzy-Sanders, Pici, Miller, Young-Anker

It’s a small theater and the people on stage must trust each other. Obviously, they do. And when they trust each other, we trust them and let ourselves enjoy the moment.

UP NEXT: ANTON IN SHOW BUSINESS, by Jane Martin, runs May 15 through May 31, also directed by Lara D. Haberberger, also at the Alleyway’s Cabaret Space. “In the tradition of great backstage comedies, ANTON IN SHOW BUSINESS conveys the joys, pains, and absurdities of ‘putting on a play’ at the turn of the century.”

Note:  There is a ticket discount for patrons who donate feminine hygiene products which the Varlets pass on to The Family Justice Center. “The Family Justice Center provides free services for domestic violence victims and their children through an extensive collaboration with several partner agencies, all located at one secured, comfortable location, where victims can get all the services they need to safely escape abuse.”

Lead image: L-R Jaime Nablo, Emily Pici, Stefanie Warnick

*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 over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), 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?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

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

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

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