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SPEED OF DARK at American Repertory Theater of WNY provides an intense vehicle for small ensemble

THE BASICS:  SPEED OF DARK, by Buffalo playwright Mark Humphrey, in a premier by American Repertory Theater (ART/WNY), directed by Matthew LaChiusa, runs through October 2, 2021 Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays at 5:00 at the Compass Performing Arts Center (the old “Theaterloft” at 545 Elmwood Avenue).  Restricted to age 15 or above.  Pay-what-you-can tickets available at the door; by calling 716-697-0837 or by clicking here.

SPEED OF DARK at ARTWNY clever mask reminder on the stairs up to the theater credit Peter Hall

The box office is on the second floor, the stairs are on the left from the street, but the elevator is accessed via a separate door to the right.  As of September 21st, unvaccinated individuals are not permitted to attend productions.  ART/WNY requests all patrons to wear masks upon entering the building.  Vaccinated individuals must show proof via CDC card or NYS Excelsior Pass and may take off their mask when seated.  Runtime: 90 minutes without intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Four men of color rehabbing an interior of a building find themselves trapped inside after dark in a “Sundown Town.”  As you may have seen in the movie “Greenbook,” sundown laws prohibit people of color to be within the city limits after dark.  The men consider their options and as the suspense builds the four discover things about themselves and their coworkers.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:  I was very eager to see two stalwarts of the African American Cultural Center’s Paul Robeson Theatre again, the swaggering Vincenzo McNeill and the intense Hugh Davis who were so fascinating to watch in August Wilson’s plays TWO TRAINS RUNNING (review here) and King Hedley II (review here) and over at the Alleyway in THE END: AMEN (review here).

McNeill and Davis could be on any stage, in my opinion, including my gold-standard for our area, The Shaw Festival, they are that good.  In fact, I believe that the role of David was written by Mark Humphrey with McNeill in mind.

McNeill and Davis could be on any stage, in my opinion, including my gold-standard for our area, The Shaw Festival, they are that good.

This is the second play in a row by Humphrey to be mounted on the ART stage which involves four characters trapped inside a small space.  In the fall of 2019 we saw THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS (review here) about travelers stuck in a bar during a blizzard, a play which also featured actor Monish Bhattacharayya who this time played “Dev” the man with the key to the building.  And Quentin Gray played “Gerry,” the new kid on the crew.  Playwright Humphrey enjoys the ebb and flow of conversations in these compressed situations, the way emotions flare, then subside, then flare, then subside as the “power” flows from one character to another.

The hyper realistic set by Bill Baldwin served three purposes well:  First, to reduce the size of the, to my way of thinking, too expansive stage and to force the action forward.  Even after that, it was still a little difficult to hear all the dialogue.  Second, the small set added believability to that sense of entrapment the workmen feel.  And third, it provided plausible “stuff” or “business” for the actors to do.  These are, after all, guys who work with their hands.

After eighteen months it was good to see so many theaters open this September, 2021, including ART/WNY, which, on the Saturday we attended SPEED OF DARK, had a full house.  Bravo!

*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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