For its current presentation of one-act plays by local writers, the American Repertory Theatre of Western New York cast its net deep into the local talent pool and pulled up an impressive catch.
The theater's collection of four one-acts and one performance piece, which opened May 17 in Buffalo East, highlights the work of four Buffalo-area artists deserving of more exposure.
The evening began with "Amanda's Explanation," a taut monologue by DonnaMarie Vaughan delivered by a fretful young woman (Bonnie Jean Taylor) who recounts in harrowing detail the story of how she acquired, and eventually lost, her infant. Taylor's performance is deeply felt and anguished, enough so that the incompleteness of the narrative doesn't seem to inhibit the piece, which seems designed to leave audience members with chills.
Vaughan imbued her one-act "Spoiled," presented in the second half of the show, with the same economy and narrative force. This melodramatic little vignette focuses on a mother (Stephanie) examining pieces of jewelry given to her by her recently deceased husband, each string of pearls or diamond brooch an apology for one of his affairs. As she talks with her daughter (Becky Globus), some dark facts come to light in an exchange of hammy dialogue that would not seem out of place on "Days of Our Lives."
The highlight of the evening, far and away, is John F. Kennedy's straightforward, wrenching piece "Peoples," based on his four years as a public high school teacher in Buffalo. It combines Kennedy's recollections with essays written by his students about their troubled, complicated lives and the daily struggles they face in school and at home.
Kennedy's piece captures one of the million daily dramas that play out within the city, but which rarely make their way to local stages. The issues this play confronts, with characters lifted straight from the classroom and language that is simple and unadorned, are in dire need of writers exactly like Kennedy. He says he is working on developing the play into a full-length piece, which is good news for the theater scene and the community at large.
Somewhat more problematic, though thoroughly charming, is Justin Karcher's short play "Death Poem," about a girl (Christina Golab) struggling to cope with her recently acquired sexually transmitted disease and plotting to stage "a funeral for her womanhood." As usual, Karcher's writing contains plenty of poetic touches and flickers of deep insight into the preoccupations of the under-30 generation: "You always think that something like this will never happen to you, that somehow, in the great vastness of fate, you alone are blessed with a certain amount of luck," Golab's character says, "and this luck will guide you through turbulent weather, like paternal sonar, and leave you untouched and unfazed by the awful world around you."
But "Death Poem" struggles with flow and purpose. It is a rumination on about 26 issues with no apparent destination, and while the trip is pleasant, it would be nice if Karcher's beautiful wandering eventually arrived at something resembling a point.
The evening ends with a strange and mostly uncomfortable performance piece by the gifted Leonard A. Ziolkowski, who plays a sort of deranged clown lamenting the recent choking death of his beloved rubber chicken. It's an odd ending to a satisfying evening of local one-acts that, overall, augurs well for city's under-the-radar theater scene.
> THEATER REVIEW
"Local Playwrights One-Act Showcase"
Review: 3 stars (Out of 4 )
WHEN: Through June 2
WHERE: Buffalo East, 1410 Main St.
INFO: 634-1102 or www.artofwny.org