The 27th annual one-act play celebration, Buffalo Quickies, is now at Alleyway Theatre. The 2018 version begins and ends with tales about Buffalo. In between, we meet people at a baseball game, on the street, in an office, in a backyard, and in a living room. The stage is bare, with just a few set pieces and props for each of the eight plays. It is all about the dialogue and the acting.
The first play is Donna Hoke’s homage to all things Buffalo, Spirit of Buffalo, which opens with the iconic jingle “We’re Talkin’ Proud,” Stalled motorists are waiting out a storm or an accident on the thruway and a man asks a woman if he can get in her car to stay warm, as his is almost out of gas. As they talk, she a native of Lancaster now living in New York City, he a returnee after living in many other places, he extols the virtues of Buffalo. Is he trying to chat her up? And what about the stranger who keeps showing up with food and drink? This is a charming piece. It is well-acted by Jacquie Cherry, who is very natural and believable in all the roles she plays throughout the evening, as the disgruntled New Yorker, and by Andrew Zuccari as Beau Flueve, the Buffalo booster.
Mr. Zuccari has a star turn in the second act in When the Skeletons in Our Closets Choke on Candy Corn, an area premiere by Justin Karcher. In Dracula costume, he is drunk at a Halloween party kegger watching his buddy Sam, played by Tom Dreitlein, dig a hole. In need of a wing man to seduce the luscious woman dressed as Dorothy Vallens from Blue Velvet, he careens around, stumbling and falling over, trying his best to sound sober and failing miserably. He is a very convincing drunk, as pointed out by an audience member in a talk-back after the show. The play is a comic existential query on meaning and emptiness as Sam questions why they are still going to keggers and trying to pick up women at age thirty. And what about that candy corn only appearing at Halloween?
Johnny Stormtracker, a world premiere by Mike Randall, local meteorologist, actor and playwright, takes us into the current climate of corporate news shows in which consultants, or “insultants” as they are referred to by the staff, make the decisions and squeeze every second of commercials they possibly can into the thirty minutes of news, weather and sports. Christopher Standart, in a goofy black wig, is the disgruntled meteorologist whose time has been cut by 30 seconds. He emphatically declares he is quitting just before the show to one of the floor workers, Jacquie Cherry, who does her best to calm him down and get him to return to work. Mr. Standart is very good as he bemoans the changes in broadcasting over his thirty years as the weatherman, talking wistfully about the weather rock and other gimmicks over the years. Kate Olena as the news anchor, and Bill Lovern as news director, add their angst to the mix. I enjoyed this peek into the inner workings of a news show, and the pressure on the staff to do more with less, a theme endemic in the modern corporate world.
Ms. Olema and Mr. Lovern play several characters in three very short scenes in Notice, an area premiere by Peter Snoad. A woman waiting at a bus stop wearing a t-shirt that proclaims “WRITERS NOTICE” begins a conversation with a man. She is shy and sweet and very charmingly played by Ms. Olema as she talks about writers observing their surroundings. In the second scene, with the man now wearing the t-shirt, she does a complete turnaround as the gruff, in your face woman who demands to know what the “notice" is about. This play speaks to perception and longing to be noticed and to make an impact in some way.
The final play of the evening, and winner of the 2017 Mazumdar New Play Competition is Kick Your Heels Up and Shout by j. Snodgrass. This is an outrageous take on extreme Bills fan angst, football as religion, and weird family dynamics. Bill Lovern is Bill, who does nasty things with a St. Jude candle, he being the patron saint of lost causes. Bill sits in front of the TV with his Bills paraphernalia and tuna sandwiches, watching the game while his Wiccan daughter, Ms. Cherry, stands in horror and fascination of her father’s obsession. Mr. Lovern had me convinced he was having a stroke as he choked on a sandwich, red in the face and apopleptic. This is a funny take on obsession and the heady mix of sports, religion and holidays (“Jesus died for the Easter Bunny”) into an absurdist stew. And wait till you find out what “bred” is.
Also on the program is Lawn Wars (cue a famous John Williams theme), a world premiere by Matthew Boyle, in which two suburban neighbors duke it out for too long over, well, lawns; The Offer a world premiere by Bella Poyton about an engineer who must decide whether to go on a shuttle to Mars; and The Death of Melendez, a world premiere by Michael Fanelli, a serio/comic tale about the obsession of a baseball fan and the result of his inability to face his demons.
Each of the plays has something to offer–a message, a slice of life, existential questions, comic circumstances, how people respond to the absurd, and how people are absurd. The actors do a credible job of switching characters, not an easy lift in short plays with little time to regroup. Direction is by Joyce Stilson, Lee Becker and James Cichocki. They keep things moving at a good clip, while allowing each play to speak for itself. I found the dialogue in a few of the plays to be somewhat forced, overlong, and repetitive, and while the plays are entertaining and at times very insightful, none really gripped me as being outstanding, as some in past Quickies have done.
All in all, an entertaining evening, and an opportunity to experience the different creative styles of the eight playwrights.