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TRIBUTE at Desiderio’s Dinner Theatre brings a fine cast to a play designed to get you out of the house and have some laughs.

THE BASICS:  TRIBUTE, the 1978 “comedy/drama” by Bernard Slade, directed by Jay Desiderio continues at Desiderio’s Dinner Theatre through December 18 in the back of Bobby J’s American Grill 204 Como Park Blvd Cheektowaga featuring Gregory Gjurich, Zachery Gammel, Lisa Hinca, Jennifer Starr, Lisa Ludwig, Robert Insana, and Marie Costa. Shows run most Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays (and some Wednesdays).   (www.mybobbyjs.com) Reservations by telephone only (716) 395-3207  Evenings: 6pm dinner, 7:30pm show;  Matinees: 1pm dinner, with a 2:30pm show.  NYS restaurant rules apply re vaccination and masks.

Runtime: 2-1/2 hours with one intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Everybody loves Scottie Templeton, even his ex-wife, but not so much his adult son Jud, the child of divorce who always wanted more of what Scottie so freely gave to friends, acquaintances, and even to perfect strangers.  In this bittersweet story about the indignities of growing old, we bounce back and forth between scenes in Scottie’s home and various speeches at a 1985 tribute dinner in his honor.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: 

As director Jay Desiderio told the audience before the show, Bernard Slade was the screenwriter who created the television sitcoms “The Flying Nun,” “The Partridge Family” and 20 episodes of “Bewitched.”  Desiderio thought that a play with a television sitcom sensibility would be good to get audiences away from their home TVs and back into live theater.  Good call.

As a playwright, in addition to this play, TRIBUTE, Bernard Slade also wrote SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR (seen at Desiderio’s in early 2019) as well as the play ROMANTIC COMEDY, followed by the movie adaptations of all three.  His specialty (he passed away in 2019 at the age of 89) was quick gags in the service of adult comedy with a somewhat jaundiced eye toward marriage.  In other words, perfect fare for an older, married dinner theater audience.  If there had been two sons in this play instead of one, this could easily have been a Neil Simon comedy.

People do not come to dinner theater to be wowed by the set and the stage and set design at Desiderio’s rarely changes.  There are always four escape routes for quick, farce-like entrances and exits.  Having said that, I was very impressed by a special effect, one stage left and one stage right, and that’s the illusion of a speaker’s dais under a spotlight, where all of the characters, in appropriate black tie, provided spoken “tributes” to Scottie.  Very effective.

This is a play for older adults who have been around the block a time or two and are willing to accept the culture of 1985 without reservations.

Equally effective, and adding a lot of pizzazz to the play, was a made-up slide show of Scottie’s life, using all the same actors who are on stage.  That’s credited to Kara Desiderio and it helped make what could have been “just another play” into something more.  So, two special effects.

Source: Desiderio’s Dinner Theatre

It was quite the cast as well.  Robert Insana completely believable as Scottie’s friend and boss; Lisa Ludwig as Scottie’s doctor; Jennifer Toomey Starr as Scottie’s younger friend, up for anything; Marie Costa as Scottie’s, uh, “professional” friend; Zachery Gammel as Scottie’s distant son, Jud; and Lisa Hinca bringing her calming experience to the evening as Maggie, the ex-wife.

I may never get to see Alan Alda on stage, but I got to see Gregory Gjurich in this play and that I believe is pretty damn close.  Gjurich completely inhabits the character Scottie who is so much like “that” uncle we all have – funny and fun to be with, corny with the kids, and a bad influence on any adult children, usually someone that parents hold at arms’ length.

This is a play for older adults who have been around the block a time or two and are willing to accept the culture of 1985 without reservations.  While screenwriter Slade may have made a living with “family friendly” television shows such as “The Flying Nun,” this play has much more of a Rat Pack vibe.

I might also recommend going with at least one other couple or maybe a small group.  It’s a fun show that should be shared.

Lead image: L-R Gregory Gjurich, Lisa Hinca | Source: Desiderio’s Dinner Theatre

*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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