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‘Dear Lydia,’ at Alleyway needs work; a LOT of work

You have to give the world premiere of a play credit for even waking up in the morning. Then, after some coffee, you have to hand it the news. Here it is.

Larry Gray’s “Dear Lydia,” which received its first-ever performance Thursday night at Alleyway Theatre, needs a lot of work. There are structural issues, character flaws, plot holes and ultimately, too much effort to make any of them work. What it does have is a seedling for a scenario, one that would be a lot of fun to explore and find. After much labor, act one ends with a clever enough hook, but act two does nothing to satisfy it.

Gray’s script gets its in own way on a regular basis. For being such a short play, it drips with fat, begging to be either beefed up or trimmed down. In fact, if Gray were to omit the second act altogether and revise sections of the first, it might make a more fascinating character study, with a greater emotional payoff. In its current version—which, we were told at a pre-curtain greeting, had been considerably reworked in the last week of rehearsals—characters spend their time effectively explaning what they want to feel, say or do, rather than emoting, saying or doing it. There’s a lot of talk about what kind of play this might be, had someone decided to write it.

Neal Radice’s direction doesn’t help matters, though you can hardly blame him too much; he had very little to work with. Still, there are long stretches of time when our leading character, an agoraphobic advice columnist played by the charming and honest David C. Mitchell, appears uncomfortable in his own cocoon of a New York City apartment. Other times, he waits for unnecessary cutes that erode any chance at a natural environment. As the sole on-stage character for act one, Mitchell needs more than blocking to guide his movement. He needs a character to embody.

The same goes for Melissa Leventhal’s second-act role as the man’s daughter. She’s an inconsistent sketch of a young woman who contradicts and betrays her own emotions whenever possible. Leventhal adds to the confusion, though, with a performance that’s much too loud for this small apartment, let alone intimate theater. She plays the room like it’s a stadium. I mean this as a compliment and not an insult, but some of her most honest moments are when she’s reacting nonverbally—truthful glimmers of a present character. Some more of that silence would go a long way in Gray’s next edit.

“Dear Lydia,” by Larry Gray

Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley, Buffalo, NY 14202

Runs through Oct. 8, Thurs. - Sat. at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are available online and at the box office. $25 general admission, $13 students

alleyway.com, 716.852.2600

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