New York - Upstate 2018/2019 Season In Review by Donna Hoke
  • Scene from "Possessing Harriet"
    1) "Possessing Harriet" at Syracuse Stage. Photo courtesy of Syracuse Stage.
  • Scene from "Once In My Lifetime: A Buffalo Football Fantasy."
    2) "Once In My Lifetime: A Buffalo Football Fantasy." Photo by Tim Coseclia.
  • Scene from "Medusa Undone."
    3) Post Industrial Productions' "Medusa Undone." Photo by Tim Coseclia.

There’s been a full slate of world premieres across the state this season, beginning last June with Diane Almeter Jones’ historical Forget Me Not, based on family wartime letters. The weekend of shows was such a rush for Jones and the cast that they’re taking the show to Edinburgh in August!

In late August, my play, Once In My Lifetime: A Buffalo Football Fantasy, made its debut. Commissioned by a California ex-pat, the comedy that envisioned Western New York’s beloved Buffalo Bills making a fifth trip to the big game and, this time, coming out on top. The hyperlocality and the fan appeal drew brand new theatergoers (and MEN!) to the theatre and revealed the intersectionality between theatre and sports. With special guests each night, full houses, and a final night appearance by “wide right” kicker Scott Norwood himself, it may have been my most fantastic production to date!

Bella Poynton’s mythical origin story, Medusa Undone, was the inaugural production of new company Post Industrial Productions, where Poynton is an artistic associate. “I’m excited about this new company because I find their focus on new plays and younger audiences to be something urgently needed in the Buffalo area,” says Poynton. Poynton also had a world premiere short in 27th annual Buffalo Quickies, which featured world premieres from six other Western New York playwrights.

Sidewalk Stageplay, a dramatization of local poet Edreys Wajed’s poem, “The Sidewalk,” was a collaboration with Paul Robeson Theater’s Artistic Director, Paulette D. Harris. The play presented a series of vignettes of life in an impoverished black neighborhood.

Adaptations were also popular this season with a new take on King John appearing at the New Phoenix, A Trumpy Christmas Carol yukking it up at Alleyway, and a stage translation of John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie filling the house at the avant-garde Torn Space. Subversive premiered an original work, Tales of the Driven.

Further east this past fall, Syracuse Stage hosted associate artistic director Kyle Bass’s premiere of Possessing Harriet. Directed by Tazewell Thompson, the historical play follows Harriet Powell, a young, mixed-race, enslaved woman who slips away from a hotel in Syracuse, New York, and escapes from the Southerner who owns her. The journey leads her to confront new and difficult ideas about race, identity, equality, and even freedom.

George Sapio’s comedy, Fault Lines, was produced by the Little Theater Group of Costa Rica, the longest extant English-speaking theatre in Latin America. It traveled to several locations in Costa Rica throughout February. “My wife directed, and, due to casting limitations, I had the honor of playing one of the parts,” says Sapio. “We had a great time doing the show, and all six venues invited us to bring more productions in future. It was a wonderful way to check out the Costa Rican theatre scene and make dozens of new friends.”

Nearer the capital region, the Denizen Theatre in New Paltz makes a point of doing new (or recent) plays, and this past December premiered Adaptive Radiation by Hannah Benitez. Shortly after the new year, Capital Rep also offered a world premiere: David Bunce’s dark comedy Red Maple, which ponders the ways of a hired assassin.