This week in Buffalo's quaint Johnson Park neighborhood, a theatrical team will be busily finishing construction of a cluttered trailer nestled on a Colorado mountaintop inside the repurposed historic Victorian that houses the New Phoenix Theatre. The messy trailer is the set for "Annapurna," which opens at New Phoenix on April 26.
Physically, the transformation will be quite a feat for the intimate theater space. Emotionally, though, it doesn't compare to the love and grit that the cast and crew drew upon to move forward with the production after the man who brought the show together died unexpectedly last year. Michael Lodick, a popular local director and designer, was stricken 13 months ago while attending a show at Subversive Theatre.
Lodick had put "Annapurna" on his 2019 schedule with performers Lisa Ludwig and John Profeta already cast in the two-person show. He was set to direct it; Terry Kimmel picked up that baton.
Richard Lambert, founder of New Phoenix and a longtime friend of Lodick, said there was never any question about going on with the show.
"It's sad if you try to make the eulogy a celebration, but Michael planted the seeds for this production, and that helps me celebrate him," Lambert said.
Reuniting with stellar performers like Ludwig and Profeta is a bonus, Lambert said, as he compared their local reputations.
"Everyone knows 'Lisa Lisa Lisa!' and John, well I worked with John when we first came to Buffalo and I finally have a way to bring my dear old fried, the fabulous, award-winning John Profeta -- back to our theater in a meaty role," Lambert said with jolly enthusiasm.
The roles are meaty. The two portray a divorced couple, Emily and Ulysses, through their first encounter since Emily took their son and abandoned Ulysses 20 years earlier. As the show opens, a family crisis has led Emily to track down her ailing ex in the mountaintop trailer where he is stubbornly living out his last days. Playwright Sharr White has them do a lot of catching up in the following hour and a half, working out a kind of aggressive internal decluttering mimicked by the mess of the trailer itself.
"It's a good play. It's a funny, poignant story in which the artists get to flex their muscles," Lambert said.
Opens April 26 through May 18 at New Phoenix Theatre, 95 Johnson Park. Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $30; $20 for students and seniors, with Thursday nights "pay what you can." Visit newphoenixtheatre.org.