Three plays are wrapping up this weekend. Two finish on Sunday, BUFFALO QUICKIES at the Alleyway Theatre in the Theatre District and THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG at the Kavinoky Theatre on the D’Youville University campus, and one finishes on Saturday, MEDEA by Euripides with a script by American poet Robinson Jeffers. Let’s take them in order of closing.
THE BASICS: MEDEA by Euripides, in a retelling by Robinson Jeffers, directed by Victoria Pérez, with dramaturgy by Katie Mallinson, presented by the Buffalo State Theater Department and Casting Hall Productions, has two more shows, Friday, March 17 at 8 pm and Saturday, March 18 at 2 pm, in the Flexible Theatre located in the Savage Theater and Communication Building on the Buffalo State University campus (see campus map.)
Tickets can be purchased in person at the theater, or by phone at (716) 878-3005, or buffalostate.csstix.com.
RUNTIME: 90 minutes, no intermission, no seating after the play starts
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: After ten years of marriage, Jason (the Argonaut, he of the Golden Fleece) abandons Medea to wed King Creon’s daughter Creusa, mostly for political advantage. Worse, Medea and her two sons by Jason are to be banished from Corinth. I n revenge, she murders Creusa (and Creon) with poisoned gifts. She also kills her and Jason’s children. Robinson Jeffers’s poetic retelling of the classic Greek tragedy by Euripides explores themes of betrayal, revenge, and the consequences of our actions.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: If I could see one of the three shows in this review again, it would be MEDEA. Yes, it’s a student production, and perhaps more experienced actors would have toned down the weeping and wailing at the beginning of the play in order to let the intensity build over the 90 minutes. But the student’s dedication to the play was undeniable. They knew their lines and what beautiful lines they were.
The poet Robinson Jeffers liked to use what he called “rolling stresses” where he would often mix iambs (stressed as da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, Shakespeare’s favorite) with anapests (da-da-DUM, da-da-DUM, da-da-DUM). Anapests are the most common poetic “foot” in ancient Greek poetry and, like the sound of a horse galloping, create a sense of anticipation or even tension over events that are unfolding. Events that, like a galloping horse, simply cannot be stopped.
As the play opens, Medea’s nurse in childhood, now her devoted servant, contrasts the early years of Medea’s marriage to today and says:
Now all is changed; all is black hatred. For Jason
has turned from her; he calls the old bond a bar-
barian mating, not a Greek marriage; he has cast
And wedded the yellow-haired child of Creon, the
ruler here. He wants worldly advantage, fine
And a high place in Corinth. For these, he is willing to
cast Medea like a harlot, and betray the children
That she has borne him. He is not wise, I think…”
So for this reason alone, to hear the words of a revered poet, in the service of a play by one of the great playwrights of a trio (Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus) who basically gave us theater as we know it today, I would get over to Buff State. It’s a fully realized play with good costumes (Carol Beckley), set (Carol Beckley and Ron Schwartz and keep watching those snake pillars), lighting (Nick Quinn), with a very spooky sound design by Emma Connaire.
Note: I found the ticketing system online very difficult to maneuver. You’ll get advice to buy your tickets at Upton Hall, elsewhere you’ll be told to go to Rockwell Hall (where, in the evening, they don’t answer the phone). We simply went to the Flexible Theatre itself, where tickets were $14 for seniors and alums, $8 for students, and $20 for the general public. Parking is free all over the campus but get there early because on Thursday it seemed to be a sold-out crowd and they announced that they don’t seat latecomers.
No Rating. I don’t rate student shows. Just go.
THE BASICS: BUFFALO QUICKIES, 6 short plays by Shawn Adiletta (THREE DEGREES), Thomas Bellavigna (BREATHE), Rosa Fernandez (THE END), Justin Karcher (THE TRICK IS TO SPILL YOUR GUTS FASTER THAN THE SNOW MELTS, Bella Poynton (ON ROOFTOPS AND ROWBOATS), and Chris Woodworth (THE LAST BEE), three directed by Richard Satterwhite and three directed by Kate Powers, presented by the Alleyway Theatre. Only four shows remain – Friday and Saturday at 7:30, Saturday matinee, March 18 at 3:30, and Sunday at 2:00. At 1 Curtain Up Alley, Buffalo, NY 14202 716-852-2600 alleyway.com
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: For the 32nd installment of one of Alleyway’s hallmark traditions, new short plays, in the words of Executive Artistic Director Chris Handley they “flipped this annual festival on its head.” Local playwrights had just one week to write their plays, and then the directors and performers and production crew had just one week to rehearse, design, and perform the six totally original new short plays all centered on a single topic: Global Warming. For more, read a preview in Buffalo Rising by Daniel Lendzian here.
RUNTIME: Under 90 minutes with no intermission
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS, AND THE PRODUCTION: It was a fine effort by the ten actors Michael Starzynski, P.K. Fortson, VerNia Sharisse Garvin, Alfonzo Tyson, Smirna Mercedes, Jason Francey, Molly McGrath, Camilla Maxwell, Mildina Capeles, and Kate Olena. That they were able to learn their lines and blocking for at least two and sometimes three different plays, albeit short plays, deserves a hand.
But, there’s a reason why play development usually takes so long. There’s the writing, then a reading, then re-writing, then perhaps another reading or low-risk production. Then often a dramaturg is called in to discuss context with the actors and director. You get the idea. It’s a stunt to have all six “Quickies” not only be quick (as in around ten minutes each) but to be written quickly. And I have to ask why?
Again, it’s a stunt to bring these plays to the stage quickly, and again I have to ask why? When I sit in the theater, what’s about to happen is all new. I don’t care if it took a week, a month, or years to bring it to the stage.
I applaud the Alleyway for their commitment to new plays and to their ability to navigate the pandemic and the shutdowns for an unbroken string of Quickies productions. As I write this it’s been almost exactly three years since the first cases of Covid-19 were identified in Erie County. The first summer, 2020, we saw the Quickies on our computer screens. Way to “pivot.” The second summer, 2021, the actors were all behind glass in storefronts and we in the audience were not only masked up but for the most part outdoors and/or more than 6 feet apart. Again, a clever “pivot.” In 2022 everything was back on the main stage as it is in 2023, only this time with the “quick” applicable to the process as well as the result.
As we read in the preview by Daniel Lendzian “the special format for Buffalo Quickies #32 might only be used for 2023, as Handley is committed to experimentation. ‘I feel like Buffalo Quickies wants to be reinvented all the time. I think if we get stuck into a routine… it’s not exciting. For better or for worse I want to keep going, I have to keep challenging myself, and challenging our artists and our community that we’re creating.’”
I hope that this special format will be assigned to the file marked “Good Ideas We Once Had in 2023.”
THE BASICS: THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, a play by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, and Jonathan Sayer, directed by Michael Galante & Adriano Gatto, presented by D’Youville University’s Kavinoky Theatre, starring Brian Mysliwy, Kelly Meg Brennan, Steve Copps, Alexandria Watts, Afrim Gjonbalaj, Jacob Albarella, Don Gervasi, and Kodi James. March 17 and 18 at 7:30, also Saturday the 18th at 3:30, and Sunday at 2:00 at the Kavinoky, 320 Porter Ave, Buffalo, NY 14201 (716) 829-7668 kavinokytheatre.com
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: This long-running West End and Off-Broadway hit follows the antics of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, who are trying their very best to stage a production of a 1920s murder mystery called “The Murder at Haversham Manor.” As the show’s title might suggest, this is not as easy as it sounds with everything that can go wrong doing just that as things quickly go from bad to disastrous. It’s an Olivier Award-winning comedy.
RUNTIME: About two hours with one intermission (full-service bar available)
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS, AND THE PRODUCTION: You might wonder why this play needed two directors and my guess is that Michael J Galante was recruited for his comedy background and Adriano Gatto for his physical comedy background. And, the Kavinoky grabbed some of the best comedic talent available including Brian Mysliwy who killed it at The Kav as Leo Bloom in THE PRODUCERS; Jacob Albarella who also killed it at The Kav playing both the male character Bingley and the female character Mary Bennet (sometimes switching roles several times in one minute) in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and Don Gervasi who is known for his improv duo “Babushka.”
The many laughs come as the two-level stage (set design by Dyan Burlingame) crumbles around the actors and they quickly improvise to cover up and also from getting their lines wrong (on purpose, of course) and then struggling to get back on track. A running gag throughout begins “before” the play begins when Afrim Gjonbalaj, as stage hand “Trevor” asks the audience to help find his missing “Duran Duran” CD. Snippets of that early 80s “2nd British Invasion” group are heard throughout the play as the sound effects (again, on purpose) misfire.
For me, many highlights of the play came from comic actress Alexandria Watts (known to many in the television advertisements for Valu hardware stores). And, Watts’ character, the stage hand “Annie” does provide at least a partial through-line when, after gamely jumping in to replace the “ailing” ingenue, she gets a taste for the limelight, and now does triple duty as a stagehand, as a fill-in, and as herself preventing the ingenue from coming back into the role which “Annie” now covets.
Is this play as good as NOISES OFF (also about mounting a play that goes wrong)? Not really. In NOISES OFF the characters on stage seem motivated or intentional in their actions. In this play, with the exception of Annie, they simply react to things that go wrong. Well, not simply, and that’s what makes it so funny. It’s actually quite complex. But after a while, it just seemed a bit gratuitous. Still, if you need a good laugh, this is just the ticket.
*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!