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"Buffalo Gal" at Primary Stages, 59E59 Theaters

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Primary Stages Presents:
Buffalo Gal
By A.R. Gurney

Directed by Mark Lamos
Primary Stages
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street

Mark Blum, Carmen M. Herlihy, Jennifer Regan,
Susan Sullivan, James Waterston, Dathan B. Williams

Lighting: Mary Louise Geiger
Set Design: Andrew Jackness
Costumes: Candice Donnelly
Original Music and Sound Design: John Gromada
Casting: Stephanie Klapper Casting
Production Supervision: PRF Productions
Production Stage Manager: Matthew Melchiorre
Director of Marketing: Shanta Mali
Director of Development: Erica Raven
Associate Artistic Director: Michelle Bossy
Press: O & M Co.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 31, 2008

In an art-life role imitation, Susan Sullivan, from Long Island, an Emmy and Golden Globe nominee, who has starred in television series and PBS specials, has returned to the theatre, Primary Stages, to play Amanda, from Buffalo, who returns to a Buffalo regional theatre to play Madame Ranevskaya in Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard”, a character conflicted with fate and choices. A.R. Gurney, a Buffalo native, wrote this play some years ago for the Buffalo stage, and it has finally opened in New York and hopefully for a long run. This intermission-less production is riveting, persuasive, and compelling, as Amanda is faced with fate and choices, whether to accept her new co-star, an actor, who substitutes for the star she expected, whether to re-ignite an affair with a high school lover, now married dentist and grand-father, and whether to return to Hollywood, for a lucrative television contract, jeopardizing her Buffalo theatre contract and leaving that lover, who now wants her back..

Susan Sullivan portrays Amanda as a now-refined West Coast Wasp, an actor with the benefits of plastic surgery, gym fit, body toning, pink stage lighting, eloquent vocal skills, and a dysfunctional lifestyle, replete with schizophrenic daughter and new grand-son, a family she works to hide. Amanda is at once self-absorbed, vulnerable, torn, and filled with hauteur. She loves being back in Buffalo and dreams of purchasing her grandmother’s home, and this passive fantasy-wish invokes her Chekhovian character all the more. Gurney has created theatre at its most satisfying. Mark Blum, as Dan, the long, lost lover, is finely cast, with a yearning for Amanda that’s palpable and pathetic, especially when she reveals the secret of not returning to Buffalo, after going off to college. He pursues his object of desire with humility and cunning, having a song played for her of the two young lovers singing together, when young and inseparable. Ms. Sullivan’s Amanda responds to the song wistfully and willingly.

One of my favorite characters was the theatre intern, Debbie, played by the very funny Carmen M. Herlihy. Ms. Herlihy draws the most laughs with her intelligent asides, so cynical, yet sensitive. She’s the Greek Chorus of this production about a production. Jennifer Regan is the high-strung Jackie, the theatre’s artistic director, who wants to use Amanda for celebrity status with hostile relatives of her offstage female lover. The plot winds tightly, as James (Dathan B. Williams), Amanda’s new co-star, quickly seduces Amanda into a deep bow of gratitude, as she clearly looks forward to this working relationship, and maybe more. This is where I began to wish that this winding plot could wind even longer. I began my own fantasy about Amanda and James, and how that twist would affect the Amanda-Dan scenario. In fact, on this night, I was wishing for a two act play that would add some sub-plots, some further re-routing of expectations. As it was, the role of James was all too brief and under-developed. He was a recovered alcoholic, devoted man to his “lady”, and no re-routing occurred.

Another secondary character was Roy (James Waterston), the stage manager, whose parents were deaf, and he loved listening to all the talking. I saw this play in previews, and Mr. Waterston may have strengthened the charisma of his enigmatic character, or maybe Mr. Gurney placed Roy in a quiet, supporting role, one who rounds out the cast. Andrew Jackness has designed an elaborate set, with pulleys that lift a cherry orchard painting, as if it’s seen through a window. A silver carafe, so illustrative of the trappings of the once-wealthy Russian family, adorns the mini-stage, as does a pine armoire and wrapped chandelier. Then, on the “Buffalo stage desk” sits a laptop and the trappings of today. Candice Donnelly’s costumes, whether Amanda’s casual jeans or Madame Ranevskaya’s long, white, lace dress, are appropriate to the moment. Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting shifts the focus from rehearsal to real life, from work to wonder.

Mark Lamos has directed Buffalo Gal with care, not to exaggerate the character’s eccentricities and not to add unnecessary pauses. Yet, he allows time for Amanda to reflect, to wonder, and to connect. The ending of the play is somewhat vague, but especially poignant, and, here again, I would have liked a second act, with a broader resolution. John Gromada’s original music stuck in my mind for hours. Kudos to A.R. Gurney, and kudos to the cast and director of Primary Stages’ Buffalo Gal.

Susan Sullivan as Amanda in "Buffalo Gal"
Photo Courtesy of James Leynse

James Waterston as Roy
and Susan Sullivan as Amanda in "Buffalo Gal"
Photo Courtesy of James Leynse

Susan Sullivan as Amanda in "Buffalo Gal"
Photo Courtesy of James Leynse

Susan Sullivan as Amanda, Carmen M. Herlihy as Debbie,
and James Waterston as Roy in "Buffalo Gal"
Photo Courtesy of James Leynse

Jennifer Regan as Jackie
and Susan Sullivan as Amanda in "Buffalo Gal"
Photo Courtesy of James Leynse

Dathan B. Williams as James
and Susan Sullivan as Amanda in "Buffalo Gal"
Photo Courtesy of James Leynse

Mark Blum as Dan and Susan Sullivan as Amanda in "Buffalo Gal"
Photo Courtesy of James Leynse

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at