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BUA shorts are long on talent

Matthew Crehan Higgins and Donna Hoke, two of our many homegrown and talented writers for the stage, have assembled 11 short playlets for Buffalo United Artists (they're actually listed as "co-curators" for this fast-moving festival). The result is a funny, thoughtful, occasionally sly and always entertaining night.

Higgins and Hoke have titled the production "BUA Takes Ten: GLBT Short Plays," and brief they are: The playlets, submitted by playwrights from coast to coast, are 10 minutes or less in duration. Enjoying them is the easy part. Writing them can be painful.

GLBT themes – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual – dominate each skit, but the stories, except for some farcical moments in Rich Espey's "Zoo Story," are slice-of-life snippets with universal themes (angst, loss, grief, aging, marriage, sexuality, relationships). There is a GLBT spin – this is the BUA, after all, where gay plays are the norm and gay audiences prevail – but straight watchers and listeners at these playlets discover or reaffirm that their life problems are the same, the stakes identical, needs and wants equal, laughter and tears the great equalizers. "BUA Takes Ten" explores all of this and more.

The playlets have arrived from experimental workshops, new play seminars (Buffalo annually has a few of these), national and international writing competitions, and college writing courses. Some of the playwrights here have had their work produced at Buffalo's Alleyway Theatre, Road Less Traveled Productions, Subversive Theatre Collective and ALT. Higgins – suddenly one of the senior members at BUA, even referred to in one of the playlets as "the old guy" – and Hoke have coaxed a fine cadre of directors to lead these short works: Laura LaValley, Drew McCabe, Lisa Ludwig, Jessica Rasp and Victoria Perez. They bring skilled and diverse perspectives. The effervescent Perez also appears in two of the offerings, her comedic talents on full display in "Zoo," a tongue-in-cheek tale of two male penguins and their adoption of a baby penguin, an event that causes public outrage and fears of the apocalypse. Manic, foolish minutes.

Maybe the best of the night is "Shiny Pair of Complications," by J. Stephen Brantley and directed by the ubiquitous Ludwig. James Robert Steiner and Marc Sacco are featured in this story of an impending wedding and a father's struggle to understand his son's gay lifestyle and his soon-to-be partner. It's rapid, acid, wry and clever commentary.

The ensemble also includes Higgins, Jonathan Shuey, the consistently fine Alisse Sikes and BUA regular Caitlin Coleman, she of 1,000 faces, impeccable timing and the power to save a scene, perhaps the night. An amazing performer, Coleman shines in "Ten Picnics" – a "two mom" tale – and Hoke's "Write This Way." Yeoman work by all.

Tight and bright writing on the page; crisp, quick performances on the stage. A couple of the skits are tedious even in brevity. Most, though, grab and sustain interest.

Overall, a well-acted, well-directed effort by many BUA talents. It's impressive work.

> THEATER REVIEW

"BUA Takes Ten: GLBT Short Plays"

Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)

Presented through July 1 by Buffalo United Artists, 119 W. Chippewa St. For information, call 886-9239 or visit www.buffalobua.org.