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'Plus and Beyond' is a unique revue

Job-wise, I usually can't find much excuse to be dissatisfied with my lot. Until I went to Theatre Plus' performance currently on stage at the Alleyway Theatre, and I beheld Karen Sterling's job description.

Sterling is a graphic designer/fire dancer.

There's a person to envy. She is one of the star attractions in "Plus and Beyond," a unique revue of offbeat talent displayed by women in the Buffalo area.

"Plus and Beyond" comprises nine performance segments of wildly varying length and quality. It's exhilaratingly, unapologetically amateur. I am using "amateur" here in the highest sense of the word, the sense that the people performing do what they do out of love.

A few components of the night are priceless.

One is the Latina actress Victoria Perez-Maggiolo, portraying a woman with her husband in a movie theater. Maggiolo has just one prop -- a chair, in which she leans back, facing the audience, her eyes focused on an imaginary screen over our heads. First amused, then uneasy, she compares her own full figure to the idealized body on screen. Sometimes she's addressing herself, sometimes her invisible husband.

Perez-Maggiolo is so engaging, so completely in character and so immediately lovable that everyone in the theater was falling over laughing. I'd call this the hit of the night.

On the serious side, author/composer Patti Bartkowiak delivered an intense monologue about the problematic birth of her second child. I'm assuming it was her own experience. She was crying by the time it ended. I think a lot of people in the room were.

The show dragged in the second half when singer/songwriter Tina-Marie Williams was allotted at least 20 minutes to sing six original songs, while Sterling painted a picture on stage.

Williams is good at what she does, which is pour out angst-ridden songs in Ani DiFranco style. But it wasn't fair to expect her to hold the stage for so long.
In her two fire-dancing segments, Sterling became a brooding, intense presence.

You've never seen a fire dance? It's an experience. Someone applies kerosene to the torches Sterling holds, and with a startling whoosh, they're alight. Sterling whips the torches this way and that, tracing big circles in the darkness, filling the pitch-black hall with heat and light.

Rounding out the night were Seneca Indian dancers Darice and Destiny Sampson, performing two traditional Native American dances. The ingenious "Hoop Dance" had them picking up big hoops, one by one, intertwining them and forming them into shapes above and around their bodies.

"Plus and Beyond," made possible with funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, could have used a lot of editing. But it's a nice dose of the bohemian and unconventional.



" Plus and Beyond"

2 1/2 (out of 4)

Short works presented through Jan. 27 by Theatre Plus in Main Street Cabaret, 672 Main St.

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