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'Buffalo Quickies' entertains with a strong, brave voice

Alleyway Theatre’s “Buffalo Quickies” one-act play festival is en route to becoming my favorite annual theater event. While I often take issue with the quality of work on Alleyway’s stage, whether under-rehearsed or unchallenging, “Quickies” has bloomed into quite a spring flower.

Director Joyce Stilson’s curation has gotten more discerning. Not one play in this year’s program is weak, and though a couple are downright odd, they’re brave enough to be the plays they want to be. This is the true sign of a strong voice, and a strong company to support it.

I mustn’t let this go unsaid, however: While there is range in genre, there is absolutely no racial diversity in this year’s lineup. I don’t know the demographics of all seven playwrights, but their plays are stark white. This is the director’s fault, not theirs. Representation should be a priority in the development of new and unproduced work, especially here and especially now. (Three of the seven playwrights are female, which counts for something.)

None of this discounts the merits of those who are included, of course. There is good work here. The first half offers comedies that diffuse serious situations, from Mike Randall’s sitcom-ready “Guns and Roses,” about a millennial’s dismay at his churchgoing parents’ decision to buy a gun, to Jennifer Tromble’s “Influence,” which uses humor to circumvent an 8-year-old’s use of a gay slur. Both are topical yet avoid aggression, a huge relief these days.

Christopher Standard is especially entertaining as a middle-aged dad in “Guns and Roses,” as is Kyle Baran as his progressive, basement-dwelling son. Stephanie Bax and Timothy Patrick Finnegan, both Alleyway regulars, have good chemistry in Tromble’s two-hander. Bax takes a noticed stab at juicy material, pushing through the status-quo mom she so often plays. It would be great to see her unwind even more.

Finnegan moves capably between asinine comedy in Bella Poynton’s “Absolutely Unbelievable!”, a ludicrous play about a radio show that would be at home on “SCTV,” and affecting drama in Tromble’s ambidextrous comedy. Stilson doesn’t quite align her actors with Tromble’s rhythm, but I suspect this will come into its own with more performances.

It’s j.Snodgrass’s “Clowntime Is Over” that lands the high note. In it, Baran and Becky Globus play engaged entertainers who communicate through their stagecraft. Globus nails the playwright’s acerbic wit as if she wrote it, and Baran sulks with deep intention. This is a unique play that exists in its own world and plays by its own rules. It is inviting and warm, a blend of highbrow and lowbrow.

The second half takes a deeper dive. The comedy is darker, and the stakes are higher. This doesn’t always succeed in Mark Harvey Levine’s “A Fit of Pique.” Bax plays a buxom bombshell whose femininity withers unless her homely sister tags along to annoy her. How does one pitch this plot? (Just try typing that sentence. I’ll wait.) Bax doesn’t land the woman’s troll-like transformation too well, however odd an  expectation. There’s a statement in here, and some style, but I didn’t quite get it.

Donna Hoke’s “Survival Strategy” is a charming love note about two office colleagues who find platonic pleasure in hugging. Once again, Bax and Finnegan bring it home in each other’s arms.

Justin Karcher’s “When Blizzard Babies Turn to Stone” is another standout. It is played almost entirely in the dark, with only a quiet midnight glow to light our torn lovers, played by Baran and Globus. Karcher’s subtext is rife for poetic analysis: the freedom of darkness, the comfort of solitude, the preciseness of a gesture. The piece would survive a scant trim, but it hits all the right notes.

THEATER REVIEW

3.5 stars (out of 4)

“Buffalo Quickies 2017”

One-act play festival in Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday through March 11. Tickets are $25 to $13 (alleyway.com, 852-2600).

 

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