The Alleyway Theatre, for 36 years, has produced new plays - original works, world premiere stuff. Fledgling playwrights from all over the country send scripts to the company impresario, Neal Radice, founder, proprietor, along with his wife and partner, the indefatigable Joyce Stilson. An average year might bring hundreds of one-act or full-length plays to their door. Radice and Stilson read them all, ponder, argue, second-guess.
The winner gets the Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition Award, ultimately to be produced on The Alleyway stage around this time of year; you can count on it, along with W-2’s, the winter solstice or the Super Bowl. The award is named after the revered, Newfoundland-born Mazumdar, an actor, director and playwright who found a home at The Alleyway back in the day, influencing a cadre of actors still active on local stages.
The latest Mazumdar winner is Sonya Sobieski’s wildly inventive “Speak No Evil.” It’s an edgy, puzzling, darkly funny story of life in past, present and future, particularly among those employed at the curious and controlling Institute of Right Things to Say. Radice directs Stilson, Emily Yancey, Joey Bucheker, Melissa Leventhal, James Cichocki, Bethany Sparacio and David C. Mitchell as “Silent Guy.”
Sobieski, who has been in town for her play’s bow, has a big-time resume. She’s an alum of Writer’s Project Theater – fellow graduates include Eve Ensler, Maria Irene Fornes and Lynn Notage, a trio whose plays have been on Buffalo stages – a lecturer, literary manager, teacher and an honoree for her entries in the New York Infringement Festival and The Best 10-Minute Plays in 2013.
“Speak No Evil” is a love story of sorts, a twisted tale of Tricia (Yancey) and Steve (Bucheker), no longer a couple. She’s searching for something, he’s at a loss as to why she split. Both work at a communication think tank, a place with a mission to stamp out unkind words and also to make sure our cliché-ridden workplace, home, school or leisure jargon leaves no room for misinterpretation. The Institute counsels both workers and needy, if not goofy, “patients” eager to become “language-vigilant.” All are afraid of saying the wrong thing, offending, making commitments, entering relationships. They’re depressed. They refer to the macabre Sylvia Plath. Tricia, an intern, gets drawn into all of this, hatches a few off-the-wall theories of her own, questions her life direction, baffles Steve and wonders aloud, “Why does everybody think that happiness is the Holy Grail?”
An intriguing character who works at The Institute is Silent Guy (Mitchell), who is so afraid of being verbally offensive that he is totally quiet, speechless, getting by on facial gestures and postures. Although silent, Silent Guy speaks volumes.
Speeding toward resolve, with the questionable help of a foul-mouthed puppet and other inanities, Sobieski’s diverse characters run out of unpredictably and get a little preachy.
Still, the evening is often wickedly funny. The cast is capable with great ensemble work by some in the portrayal of many characters, the talented Sparacio fun to watch.
“Speak No Evil” is new, and not without rough edges but, all in all, a future beckons.