FALL FROM THE GRACE OF GOD at ART brings together 10 local short films inspired by Irish punk band The Pogues
THE BASICS: FALL FROM THE GRACE OF GOD, a showcase of one-act plays by local writers Jennifer Tromble, Mark C. LLoyd, TJ Snodgrass, Monish Bhattacharyya, Tim Joyce, Justin Karcher, Karen McDonald, Matthew LaChiusa, John F Kennedy and James A Marzo, until April 2. Thursday to Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. Presented by American Repertory Theatre, at Compass Performing Arts Center (formerly TheatreLoft) 545 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY, 14222. artofwny.org 716-697-0837 Duration: 2 hours 45 minutes with an intermission.
VIGNETTE SKETCH: Sometimes accompanied by a live band, the ten plays, skits, skits or poems performed were all based on or inspired by the lyrics of Celtic/punk band The Pogues. Although there are no clear plot threads, the games flow from one to the next without a break. The same 14 actors all appear as regulars at a local South Buffalo gin mill, “Martin’s Bar & Grille”, before taking on different stage personas. All actors and plots have a disaffected view of the world. There’s music from The Pogues, but not as much as you’d think, and it’s mostly used as incidental music.
THE ACTORS, THE GAME AND THE PRODUCTION: The Pogues were an Anglo-Irish “Celtic punk band” founded, according to Wikipedia, in London as “Pogue Mahone” – the anglicisation of Irish Gaelic póg mo thóin, meaning “kiss my ass”. True or not, that sounds good. They were popular in the 80s and 90s, then broke up, then reunited in the early 2000s but mostly to cover their old songs. Common themes in Celtic punk music include politics, culture and identity, heritage, religion, alcohol, and working class pride. It fits perfectly with Buffalo (“a drinking town with a football problem”), especially in the culture of South Buffalo and the Irish “Old First Ward”. But this culture also describes northern towns, where wood and chemicals, not steel, held the jobs for decades and where I was once told (I can’t verify this) that Ontario Street had more bars per mile than anywhere else on earth. Again, true or not, that seems fair, and so these pieces should appeal to everyone, no matter where you come from.
The lineup of local playwrights and works began with John F Kennedy’s ME BROTHER, directed by Catherine Burkhart and starring Susan King, as the playwright paid tribute to an older brother. During intermission, playwright Kennedy told me about his brother who refueled ships during the Vietnam War and died, like so many of his comrades, of cancer after being splashed with benzene.
As he told me this story, I thought of the Herbert Hoover quote: “Older men declare war. But it is the youth who must fight and die. (I didn’t think old HH had a punk sensibility, did I?)
A FAIRY TALE IN NY by Karen McDonald, directed by Matthew LaChiusa, revolves around an aging singer who must choose between another shot at Broadway fame or settling down to sing acoustic songs in Buffalo bars. Alyssa Grace Adams plays the curious young person as Susan King explains her motives, while being watched by bar owner Michael Breen.
Mark C Lloyd’s IN A DARK AND DIRTY BAR, also directed by LaChiusa, stars Sarah Emmerling and Trevor Dugan in what we realize is a bit of foreplay. Cute idea, but it went on too long and that’s one of the reasons the party lasted nearly three hours.
James A Marzo’s A RAINY NIGHT IN SOHO, also directed by LaChiusa, finds runaway bride Kayla Victoria Reumann who needs to act out her story by using the bar’s furniture and willing patrons to become her Uber driver, possible one-night stand and jerk fiancée. The set up is a little over the top, but once started it’s quite funny, and of all the shorts it’s one of the most “organic” of the evening, with the bar setting taking it all suddenly all makes sense.
by Jennifer Tromblé TO FALL, directed by and co-starring Stefanie Warnick has him as a sort of smooth-as-silk perky recruiter for male walkers and hustlers, in this case chasing local drunk, “Jimmy,” played by Matt Mogensen. It was inspired by the Pogues song “The Old Main Drag” which ends with a desolate young man lamenting, “And now I’m laying here, I’ve had too much booze / I’ve been fucked, spat on and raped and abused / I know I’m dying and I wish I could beg / Some money to get away from the old main street.
And before intermission, to lighten the mood a bit, TJ Snodgrass MAGIC HANDS, also directed by Stefanie Warnick, has Isabel Deschamps playing a modern “damsel in distress” (asking for subway directions) while her partner in crime Cameron Kogut picks the pockets of distracted “knights in shining armor”. It has a nice Title IX finish and makes great use of the stage, directed as it was by Certified Stage Fight Director Warnick.
After the intermission, Trevor Dugan delivered what has been described as “the beat-poetry didactics” of WHEN THE ANGELS WILL NOT RECEIVE ME by Justin Karcher. It didn’t work for me, but your results may vary. I remembered Maureen’s character in RENT with her avant-garde performance piece “Over the Moon” (based on “Hey Diddle Diddle”.) I know people like that. I do not.
On the other hand, the tour de force (for me at least) was another poem entitled LOVE IN A TIME OF CHANGE by comedian Timothy Joyce, involving the whole ensemble, each taking a sentence, all superbly directed by Catherine Burkhart (who also directed ME BROTHER). Ms Burkhart was quoted in a recent interview answering a question about the problems of directing a new show and she replied: “Difficulties in directing. Personalities that clash between the actors. Sometimes it can be incredibly difficult. And I don’t think an audience realizes how much time they spend rehearsing, even a short piece. Well, I realized it mostly because it’s a great ensemble piece where Joyce’s long poem, shared sequentially by many voices, is about growing up in South Buffalo.
Then we’re off to the bar regulars’ farewell to their butter factory worker friend named “Petey” in “Matthew LaChiusa.”GOODBYE FROM PETEY.” It seems Petey, though dead, doesn’t want to leave this deadly winding up, reminding me of what parents used to say to children who were overstayed in foster care “You don’t have to go home , but you can’t stay here. Bar owner Martin, played by Michael Breen, insists Petey move on. But first, it turns out he needs to be baptized. Pretty amusing.
And that stands in contrast to Monish Bhattacharyya’s clever game of life or death in LAST GAMBIT (main image), directed by Steve Vaughan and starring Larry Gregory Smith as an ex-con who plays chess with The Devil or “Old Scratch” as it’s known. Smith, as it happens, has a trick up his sleeve.
And that’s all. A little more dancing (perhaps too much dancing) to the music of the Pogues, encores, and off we go, at 10:15 p.m. I still have my problems, but it’s a really good night at the theater. If you don’t come in with huge expectations, you’ll probably be satisfied.
*BUFFALO HERD (Notes on scoring system)
A BUFFALO: That means trouble. A terrible play, a very flawed production, or both. Unless there’s a really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you’re the parent of someone attending), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALO: Passable, but no major shaking. Either the production is quite off base or the part itself is problematic. Unless you’re the kind of person who just goes to the theater, you might be looking for something else.
THREE BUFFALO: I’m still having my issues, but it’s been a damn good night at the theater. If you don’t come in with huge expectations, you’ll probably be satisfied.
FOUR BUFFALOS: The production and the piece are of high caliber. If the genre/content is right for you, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALO: Truly superb – a rare rating. Comedies that leave you faint with laughter, dramas that truly touch your heart. As long as it’s the kind of show you like, you’d be crazy to miss it!