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Season preview: 'Paradigm Bomb' continues the evolution of American Repertory Theater

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Paradigm Bomb American Repertory Theater of WNY (copy)

Charles McGregor and Suzanne Hibbard star in "Paradigm Bomb," a play by Matthew LaChiusa that examines how people become radicalized.

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When American Repertory Theater of WNY pulled the plug on “The Paradigm Bomb” in May, it was the right decision, the playwright said. For a city barely beginning to cope in the aftermath of a racist mass shooting, the pain was still too raw to absorb the play’s themes of alienation, indoctrination and radicalization.

Four months later, having the play open ART’s 2022-23 season comes as a sign of healing and a move toward understanding. It premieres Sept. 9 in the theater at 545 Elmwood Ave.

“It was an easy choice to postpone the show,” said Matthew LaChiusa, ART’s executive and artistic director, as well as the writer of “The Paradigm Bomb.” He said that he and director Monish Bhattacharyya, along with the cast, took a step back to reconsider the play over the summer and worked in some important changes.

“We really analyzed it in the context of what happened here last May, and we looked deeper into the concept of why an individual becomes radicalized,” LaChiusa said. “There were other elements in the play, but we decided, 'Let’s focus on that.' ”

The result, he believes, is a “very strong, cerebral, socially conscious play. I think the timing is good for having it open the season at ART.”

The evolution of “Paradigm Bomb” in some ways reflects the evolution of ART. In its 15th season, the theater is doubling down on its commitment to promoting Western New York artists and themes that reflect the diversity of the region. Like the upcoming season, 2021-22 also was composed entirely of work by local writers, with a grant that allowed ART to present shows on a “pay-what-you-can” basis.

“It was successful, commercially and artistically. It was good. We didn’t suffer,” LaChiusa said. “And based on last year’s success, we are going to continue to support the artistic vision of local playwrights.”

“The stigma of people not wanting to risk seeing local playwrights was blown away last year,” he said.

As a reminder, ART will present a staged reading of its Artie Award-winning 2021 play, “Speed of Dark” on Sept. 21, along with the four regular productions. "Speed of Dark" is a drama that features four workingmen who lose track of time and find themselves trapped in a “sundown town” after dark. Playwright Mark Humphrey and Patricia A. Carter of the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s Living Legacy Project will discuss the play’s themes after the reading.

The rest of the season appears to be, at least, a little less weighty. “The Birth of Santa” by local poet and playwright Justin Karcher, is ART’s “holiday” show, described as a darkly comic take-off on “A Christmas Carol.”

LaChuisa said the play, which opens Dec. 1, is “for people who want to see something different from classic holiday fare. It’s irreverent and tongue-in-cheek – the only way Justin can express his views on Christmas.”

The spring production, “Rust and Redemption: Requiem for a Buffalo Grunge Band,” comes from Buffalo author/educator/playwright John Snodgrass. The story looks in on former members of a band who reconnect when one of the group’s original members dies.

“It’s a music-minded piece,” LaChiusa said.

Between those shows is “Mercy Seat,” ART’s traditional one-act showcase of short works, this year inspired by the alt-punk musical narratives of Nick Cave. It opens Feb. 16. The framing device of a tent revival will weave the pieces together.

As pandemic shutdowns and precautions begin to fade, ART is looking ahead.

“Everybody who is involved in this season is just hyper-jacked. It’s an enthusiasm that’s contagious," he said, then added with a laugh, "OK, maybe that’s a poor choice of words, but everyone’s excited. We’ve got a helluva thing going on here in the 716.”

American Repertory Theater of WNY

545 Elmwood Ave.

Regular season

Sept. 9-Oct. 1: “The Paradigm Bomb”

Dec. 1-23: “The Birth of Santa”

Feb. 16-March 11: “Mercy Seat”

April 21-May 13: “Rust & Redemption: Requiem for a Buffalo Grunge Band”

Special event

7 p.m. Sept. 21, staged reading of "Speed of Dark" ($15)

Times and tickets: Most shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 p.m. Saturdays. Tickets are $20 general; $15 for students (artofwny.org, 716-697-0837).

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