New York – Western by Donna Hoke
New work is well represented this season with no fewer than seven shows having first productions in the Queen City. For Curtain Up!, Buffalo’s unique and premier celebration of the start of the new theater season, three shows took bows.
Roommates, by Mark Humphrey, opened at American Repertory Theatre of Western New York (ARTWNY), and put an in-debt investment accountant in a room with his loan shark’s goon/safekeeper for a fraught twenty-four hours. “There are two major themes at work here. One is how people are not necessarily what they seem at first glance, and [another is the way] some people feel they can treat people anyway they want. What gives them the right?” says Humphrey. “This show came from a place in my psyche that, while not black, is definitely a dark shade of gray. Is it based on a true story? You decide.”
Stage adaptations of films are commonplace, but an adaptation of a local film is rare—but that’s Killer Rack, in which a woman with breast augmentation unwittingly becomes part of a plot to destroy the world. Film director Gregory Lamberson described Alleyway Artistic Director’s Neal Radice’s musical adaptation as “hilarious and faithful to the original script.”
And my comedy, Sons & Lovers, played at Buffalo United Artists, and showed audiences how well the power of denial can hold unpleasant truths at bay—until it doesn’t. I had a short comedy, Best Interests, in BUA Takes 10: GLBT Short Stories in 2015. BUA artistic director Javier Bustillos observed that my writing voice was a good match for the lead’s acting voice, he offhandedly suggested I expand the ten minutes into a full-length vehicle for Caitlin. I laughed it off, but, when he continued to encourage it, the idea took hold. I’m so glad he asked!
In December, get festive with member Michael Fanelli’s yuletide satire Miracle in Levittown, which cuts right to the heart of American hypocrisy as the young heroine of the iconic Miracle on 34th Street gets Santa to turn her into an African American to test the racial exclusion policies in postwar Long Island.
“The untold story of Miracle on 34th Street is that African American girls could not dream of a new house in the suburbs with a swingset in the backyard. The United States Government stacked the deck against African American housing in the twentieth century through blatant discriminatory statutes and more subtle but cynical means such as denying FHA backed mortgages to real estate developers who desegregated,” Fanelli previews. “Zazu, the main character of Miracle In Levittown, is seven years old when she reads a contract her parents must sign for their new house that stipulates that they are banned from selling it to negroes. Outraged, she asks Santa Claus to turn her black so she can understand segregation better. Santa, a Puerto Rican, grants her wish.”
The play features three ghosts: FDR (Ghost of Segregation Past), Moses (Robert Moses, Ghost of Segregation Present; this is 1947), and Runt (Ghost of Segregation Future, Donald Trump with his sidekick KaKa Conway). “It was the time and the place to dramatize how urban ghettos originated by design, not by accident,” says Fanelli. “The story fit in with Miracle on 34th Street once I realized that the house where Suzie, Doris Walker, and Uncle Fred were moving to was in whites-only Levittown.”
In February, ARTWNY presents An Inch Short & A Day Late, by David Moran; the play explores the inner workings of a band as it tries to finish the last song of their upcoming EP. The season finishes with The Rain Dogs Project, a collection of new short plays based on the music of Tom Waits, that will include member Bella Poynton’s What’s He Building?
“It’s poetry set to a sci-fi-ish soundscape,” says Navigators Artistic Director Bella Poynton. “It’s based on the Waits song, ‘What’s He Building,’ and the play is post-apocalyptic. “Basically, two young women are stuck in the basement of their home after nuclear fallout, but they keep seeing a neighbor outside who has a radiation suit going in and out of his house, and other houses on the street, but never theirs. They want to know what he’s building, and why he never comes to their house. It’s a comedy and very fun and feel-good.” The evening will also feature Guild member John F. Kennedy’s Funeral Water.
Also in February, Alleyway presents the winner of the 2016 Maxim Mazumdar Competition, member David Alan Brown’s Beginning Again, a lyrical play about healing. “The three, seemingly random interactions of this play were active in my imagination for a long time, but I didn’t really know what it was supposed to be about until I happened upon Roland Barthes’ Mourning Diary, which broke my heart,” says Brown. “After further research on his work and the tendencies of grief, I began to weave together story, social criticism, symbolism, and other aspects of Barthes’ teaching. I highlighted these with powerful emotional moments, relishing how live performance can affect an audience. I’ve attempted to illuminate human struggle through artistic query, giving voice to the frustrations of life after tragedy, and, hopefully, offering a sense of hope and peace to all of us who experience it.”
Other new plays tend to crop up unexpectedly, but even seven in a season is proof that the new play sector is alive and well in Western New York. Keep an eye out for e-blasts about Playwright Mobs!