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SCOTCH AND MADNESS at Alleyway squanders talents of 9 actors in search of a director

THE BASICS: SCOTCH AND MADNESS, the world premiere of a play by Tatiana Gelfand and Paul Jensen, directed by Gelfand, starring Timothy Goehrig, Jamie Nablo, James Cichocki, Daniel Greer, Betsy Bittar, Nicolas Lama, Kathleen Rooney, Jaimee Harmon, and Eddie Bratek is up for three more weeks through March 14, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. at the Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley (852-2600). www.alleyway.comRuntime: 2 hours with one intermission (soda pop available)

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: It’s Christmas Eve and Fred, an intake counselor at the “Psychological Counseling Services,” and apparently the only one left in the building, is fielding calls from distraught folks. He seems to intuitively know all about their problems and it’s only later in the play that we suspect that perhaps nobody is really calling, but Fred is imagining calls from various women in his life – his sister, his ex-wife, and his mother who used to call him “Petie.” During the course of the play Fred also has imaginary or remembered arguments and conversations with his uncle and others, and even participates in group therapy sessions run by “Nurse Latex.” And, there’s also a trip to Japan to teach English, during which Fred became feverishly ill. So we are (possibly, but nobody I’ve talked to seems sure) watching a descent into madness, but also drunkenness as Fred begins to polish off a bottle of J&B Scotch, but also fevered delirium. And, for all we know, the “real” Fred is still in Japan, and everything we see on stage is a creation of his insane, drunken, or fevered brain. It is one confusing mish-mosh of a play, which is a shame, because the individual scenes are compelling. But in the end, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: As mentioned here before, in general playwrights should not direct their own work. That’s what directors are for. Directors get paid to make tough decisions, choose from all the possible interpretations of a script, come up with a clear line, and then get the actors to fulfill their directorial vision.

Also, even though musicals are usually created by three people – one to write “the book” (plot and dialog) and two to create the songs (the lyricist and the composer) – it’s very unusual to have straight plays written by more than one author. Having said that, most successful television shows, especially comedies, are written in rooms full of writers. So in the case of SCOTCH AND MADNESS, having two authors, Tatiana Gelfand and Paul Jensen, was unusual, but it wasn’t inherently a bad idea. I think where they may have gone wrong was in being too nice to each other during the collaboration when a terse “that won’t work” from time to time might have helped.

In the world of packaged goods, depending on whom you ask, up to 95% of new products fail after launch despite extensive research and “test marketing.” In the theater, “test marketing” is conducted by readings, workshops, and “out of town” tryouts, which is what’s happening in Buffalo with SCOTCH AND MADNESS. That’s all by design at the Alleyway Theater. Giving new plays a chance is what they do and this was their 153rdproduction. That’s an impressive track record. Obviously, they know what they’re doing; so they will make adjustments to this play; and it might be a success somewhere down the road.

The costumes by Todd Warfield were excellent and the fight choreography by Stefanie Warnick was solid and believable.

I’m not sure how they’ll collect feedback, though, because the show we saw was followed by an open discussion / “talk-back” with the playwrights and cast which involved several polite softball questions from the audience, hesitant to volunteer their thoughts. But then, walking down the alley away from the theater, all four in my party said something on the order of “I really wanted to ask ‘WHAT THE HELL was that play all about?’”

My hesitancy to comment at the ‘talk-back’ came from respect for the excellent cast, who worked very hard to create memorable characters.

My hesitancy to comment at the “talk-back” came from respect for the excellent cast, who worked very hard to create memorable characters. With the exception of newcomer 7thgrader Eddie Bratek who plays “Petie,” I’ve seen Timothy Goehrig, Jamie Nablo, James Cichocki, Daniel Greer, Betsy Bittar, Nicolas Lama, Kathleen Rooney, and Jaimee Harmon in many excellent productions. I love them all and can’t wait to see them all in the future. The costumes by Todd Warfield were excellent (including an “over the top” outfit worn by comic actor Nick Lama as “Nurse Latex”) and the fight choreography by Stefanie Warnick was solid and believable.

Again, a lot of Buffalo talent that could have used more solid direction.

UP NEXT: BUFFALO QUICKIES, the 29th annual celebration of One-Act (new) plays, suitable for adult audiences, which runs March 26 through April 18, 2020 at The Alleyway Theater.

*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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