THE BASICS: BUFFALO WRITERS’ THEATER ANNUAL SHORT PLAY SHOWCASE on the theme “Get in the car!” directed by Matt Boyle, Mariangela Mercurio, Neal Radice, and Jane Cudmore features ten 10-minute plays by Matt Boyle, Madison Sedlor, Neal Radice, Jennifer Tromble, J. Snodgrass, Karen McDonald, Allison Fradkin, Michael Fanelli, Tim Joyce, and Jenn Dlugos & Charlie Hatton. 3 shows only: Friday – Saturday, May 19 – 20 at 7:30, and Sunday, May 21 at 2:00 at the American Repertory Theater 545 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo.
RUNTIME: A little under 2 hours with one intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Following up on a successful reading of these plays at the Central Library in January of this year, now it’s time for staged performances of all ten 10-minute plays, each of them inspired by the phrase “Get in the car!” Many are funny; some deal with serious issues.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:
Short play festivals are always full of energy as the casts change up and if one play isn’t to your taste, you just have to wait ten minutes until another one comes along. I had seen these plays at the workshop reading in January at the Central Library and was impressed. I’m even more impressed now. I got a particular kick out of the music used before, after, and at intermission, (mostly) songs with cars in their stories such as the Cadillac in Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline,” Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” and Steve Miller’s “Take the Money and Run.”
Here are the plays, in order presented:
THE GET IN THE CAR PLAY FOR THE GET IN THE CAR SHORT PLAY FESTIVAL, a comedy by Matt Boyle, directed by Matt Boyle, featuring Jason Gonser with Steven Maiseke.
A play within a play with the actors becoming self-aware that they are in a play. Very meta and maybe a little cerebral.
PASTORAL EMERGENCY, a “dramedy” by j. Snodgrass, directed by Neal Radice, featuring Sandra Roberts and Bill Lovern.
It’s Easter and a pastor is pulled over for a possible DUI by one of his younger parishioners. As he reminds her of being at her confirmation and other good times of the past, she has to remind him that drinking and driving is serious. He reminds her of some serious aspects of her past, but she ju-jitsus his arguments. When he says “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” she tells him “That’s not how traffic court works.” The play builds up to a very poignant moment which makes it a “dramedy” and not only a comedy. Very cleverly written with a nice flow and pacing.
GOTCHA! a comedy by Jennifer Tromble, directed by Matt Boyle, featuring Stephanie Bax, Jason Gonser, and Danielle Burning.
A stranded young woman and a couple who are helping her get gas for her car is the setup. But is she really stranded? Are they really being helpful? During the drive they each mess with each other’s heads big time. The play has a solid yin-yang back-and-forth pacing that is very satisfying. Nice!
GET IN THE CAR, a one-woman drama by Neal Radice, directed by Neal Radice, featuring Sandra Roberts.
As a woman dressed in funeral black pleads with her young son to get back in the car because they will be late, we slowly begin to understand what’s really going on. I think the word “poignant” fits here. Masterfully written with the image of the car as more than just transportation, evenly paced, without any false notes in the dialog.
PHILOSOPHERS AT WAR, a comedy by Michael Fanelli, directed by Mariangela Mercurio, featuring Dan Barone, Stacy Kowal, and Jason Gonser.
As we hear “The Ride of the Valkyries” over the loudspeakers, the fate of the world hangs in the balance as a French philosopher (think Sartre) is dropped behind enemy lines to launch “a metaphysical offensive” for the Allies during World War II. Can the power of his brilliant mind save the free world? Like the opening play, very meta and a little cerebral.
BAR NONE by Karen McDonald, a “dramady” directed by Matt Boyle, featuring Stephanie Bax, Kate Olena, Stacie Kowal, and Matt Boyle.
The play opens with the theme song of “Cheers” playing as we meet a recovering alcoholic falls off the wagon and needs a ride home that she refuses to take. It’s a pretty insightful play and much more nuanced than the old “let’s laugh at the drunk” comedies. The best comic lines are given to the bartender who just wants to close up and get home to her kids.
IT AIN’T OVER TILL THE PINK LADY SINGS! a comedy by Allison Fradkin, directed by Mariangela Mercurio, featuring Jo O’Donnell, Danielle Burning, and Clara Tan.
Love is in the air as three high school thespians (deliberately rhymes with lesbians) negotiate affairs of the heart while rehearsing Grease! The dialog is worthy of a much older form of musical, the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta’s “patter” of incredibly fast-paced, pun-laden, wordplay, which I absolutely love.
The “matchmaker” here tells one of her shyer classmates that she needs to declare her affections, like, right now: “Why be a Pink Lady when you can be a leading lady? Which is why you need to follow my lead before someone slightly less subtle swoops in and sweeps Winifred off her tootsies. A girl like her is cruisin’ for a schmoozin’, what with that positively peachy personality, that pair of passion pit-perfect lips. She don’t need no ciggie-butt to be smokin’ hot.” And that’s just 20 seconds of dialog in a ten-minute play. Many of Fradkin’s plays are about LGBTQ+ issues and she certainly loves to play with language. Kudos to Clara Tan for delivering on that script.
TEMPLE OF THE NIMBLE WINNEBAGO a comedy by Jenn Dlugos and Charlie Hatton, directed by Jane Cudmore, featuring Justin Chortie, Jane Cudmore, and Shanda Gardner.
A sentient broke-down flying Winnebago who (that?) talks (think Sari) and a cultish, faith-healing roadside assistance mechanic, both conspire to help the lovelorn owner of said sentient broke-down Winnebago who is late for a first date with a woman he met on the internet. Turns out that Winnebago is pretty smart in this funny well-paced play. Favorite line? (Remember the theme of this showcase and think of the movie “The Exorcist”): “The power of Chrysler compels you!”
LONG RIDE TO WORK, a drama/tragedy by Tim Joyce, directed by Neal Radice, featuring Bill Lovern and Andrew Zuccari.
This short play could only have been written and directed by two very old hands in the theater. Without actually naming names, it seemed pretty clear that we are in the car, driving to the Jefferson Avenue Tops, while the mind of the shooter is being poisoned by his back-seat “passenger,” a personification of society, the internet, hatred, ignorance, racism and a whole host of issues. Kudos to the actors for taking on these two tough roles. At the workshop readings at the library last January, this play was presented separately in an anteroom. And here it will not be presented on Sunday afternoon.
GETAWAY EDDIE, a rom-com by Madison Sedlor, directed by Jane Cudmore, featuring Jo O’Donnell, Steven Maiseke, and Justin Chortie.
A cat burglar emerges with her loot to hop in the waiting getaway car. Her friend has hot-wired it, and it’s running, but there’s a problem. It’s a stick shift and neither of them knows how to drive it. He doesn’t mind not actually escaping. It gives him more time with her. She’s incredibly angry, but how can you stay mad at such a sweet guy? It’s the perfect final play of the evening, chock full of rom-com miscommunications.
Nice work, everyone.
Lead image: GOTCHA! L-R Danielle Burning, Stephanie Bax, Jason Gonser
*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!