“call Lyft or Uber … It will be so worth it!”-Anthony Chase, theatretalkbuffalo.com

You’ve got two more chances to see William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performed by the Irish Classical Theatre Company accompanied by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra playing Felix Mendelssohn’s overture and incidental music. I confess that I arrived at Kleinhans Music Hall expecting to see an innocuous caprice, tossed together quickly, and featuring some amusing fairy costumes. I humbly admit that I left the music hall amazed and grateful for having enjoyed a memorable, luxurious, and entirely polished evening.

To begin, the BPO is always a special occasion. The thrill of ceremony implicit in an orchestral performance never fails to affect me. The excitement that begins to mount while descending the sloped aisle to my seat at Kleinhans; the arrival of the concert master; the sound of the orchestra tuning; and the climatic moment of the conductor herself, in this case, beloved JoAnn Falletta, entering with exultant confidence, promises a momentous occasion and takes me back to my earliest memories of going to concerts, ballets, and plays as a child.

The degree to which combining the play with a concert would heighten the pleasure of the event took me by surprise. To be honest, I would have been satisfied with hearing the BPO performance of Mendelssohn’s overture alone, but when the first overlapping transition to a scene from Shakespeare began, and Aleks Malejs and Vincent O’Neill entered as Hippolyta and Theseus, I was over the moon in love.

I will not be the first to observe, over the past two-hundred years, that the playful intensity of Mendelssohn’s overture, written when he was still a teenager, is the perfect prelude to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but this production, directed by Fortunato Pezzimenti, is particularly well-calibrated to the music. Far from tossed together, the scenes from Shakespeare were elegantly and expertly performed, with some truly sensational performances in the most iconic roles.

In this mid-career comedy by William Shakespeare, four Athenian youths run into the woods where they are caught in the hilarious crossfire of a marital dispute between Titania and Oberon, Queen and King of the fairies. Simultaneously, a group of craftsmen, “the mechanicals,” plan a play to celebrate the marriage of Theseus, the King of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. They too get mixed up in fairy mischief, as Oberon instructs his servant, Puck, to make Titania fall in love with the next creature she sees upon waking – the sprite arranges for her to see Bottom, the weaver, to whom Puck has magically given the head of a donkey.

All will be happily resolved in the end.

Brendan Didio is truly marvelous as Puck. This is nothing short of a star turn. Giving a performance of impressive clarity and focus, he is actually the force that holds this multi-plotted play together, especially in this abbreviated form. Didio playfully tumbles about the stage, making his magical mischief while expertly providing vital exposition and narration.

Among the mortals, Phillip Farugia does not waste the opportunity of being cast as Bottom the Weaver. In a stellar performance, among a number of stellar performances in this production, he squeezes the comic juice from every word Shakespeare lavished on one of his greatest comic creations. Even without a donkey head, Farugia’s performance as Bottom is wonderfully memorable.

Some of Farugia’s best comic moments occur when he is paired with hilarious Kevin Kennedy, as Flute, the bellows mender, who overcomes his reluctance to play a woman and comically throws his heart and soul into the role of Thisbe opposite Farugia’s Pyramus, in the wedding celebration play. I have never seen the scene better performed. Other actors might feel ashamed for taking such comical risks, but these two are obviously shameless! (Add to the wall of shame, the truly awful and therefore fantastic comic choreography for the scene by Lauren Nicole Alaimo). Farugia and Kennedy are assisted in their mirth making by the reactions of those around them, and by comic gifts of their fellow mechanicals, particularly Dudney Joseph, whose exasperated reactions as “Wall” are priceless, and by Chris Kelly as Quince, the carpenter, who serves as the director of the play within the play.

Malejs is both queenly and hilarious as Titania, Queen of the Fairies. She creates a woman who is sophisticated and regal, making her passion for an ignorant blow-hard with a donkey head all the more delightful.

The four Athenian lovers are uncommonly good, and their characterizations unusually distinct in their individuality, giving the convoluted shenanigans of the play exceptional intelligibility. Not being familiar with the work of Kit Kuebler who plays Helena (the tall one), or Kayla Storto who plays Hermia (the short one), I was quite impressed by the precision and skill of these very young actors, who hold their own with some of Buffalo’s best known actors and emerge as formidable leading ladies.

Kuebler and Storto are paired with Nick Stevens and David Wysocki as icky Demetrius and dreamy Lysander who rise to the comic occasion with athletic enthusiasm, giving taut and clearly motivated performances. These roles are clearly the prototypes for the princes in “Into the Woods.” Realize that the resolution of the plot is only possible because the magical mayhem inflicted on Demetrius, a boy who would force a girl to marry him, despite the fact that she does not love him, is never undone. (This jerk is actually willing to threaten her with death or the convent). At the end of the play, his love for Helena is magically induced, which is lucky for little Hermia. We should all wish foolish Helena luck. The interplay between the silly yet ardent boys, joined cheek by jowl, is enormously entertaining.

Costumes by A. Lise Harty add tremendously to the evening. The fairies are sublime with Vincent O’Neill looking magically kingly as Oberon, and stately as Theseus – I especially enjoyed his reactions to the wedding play. Actually, Malejs scores some of her best dryly comic moments in that sequence too.

David Lundy, Gerry Maher, and Dudney Joseph, knowingly outrageous as both fairies and mechanicals, also owe a debt of gratitude to Harty’s costumes.

The transitions between scenes and orchestral music are graceful. The vocal performance of the Women’s Choir of Buffalo under the direction of Kathleen Bassett, and vocalists Karen D’Angelo and Maria Parker as Fairies 1 and 2 added splendidly to the richness of the event.

Video designer Brian Milbrand has become a large part of the Buffalo theater scene. His work seems to be everywhere. His design for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is inspired, and perfectly measured to Kleinhans, making brilliant use of its architecture while augmenting the play with a sense of enchantment.

Similarly, the simple set by David Dwyer, transports us to the magical woods. It is amazing how much delight you can create with twinkle lights!

This show is a large undertaking. There is evidence of compacted rehearsal and the distraction of collaboration. There are moments of very mannered acting and mechanical physicality, particularly for comic effect. These can be forgiven, considering the sumptuousness of the overall effect.

Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is so familiar and so frequently deployed on television shows and uninspired weddings that it has acquired a sense of being hackneyed. When played with the full throttle passion of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra within the context of this play, however, it loses its mantle of kitsch and resonates through the hall with joyful grandeur. This is a treat among many surprising treats offered by this venture.

Do yourself a favor. Ignore the weather and head over to Kleinhans to see this show. If necessary, do as I did, and call Lyft or Uber. It will be so worth it!

“an absolutely intoxicating brew” – Ann Marie Cusella, buffalovibe.com

The fairies have alighted at Kleinhans Music Hall this weekend in a swirl of sound, color and magic that pulsate throughout the beautiful hall in the woodland romp that is Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

In a perfect blend of music and theater, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta, and the Irish Classical Theatre under the direction of Fortunato Pezzimenti, have created a delightful frolic that engages the senses from start to finish. One can almost detect the scent of the enormous flowers that festoon the stage wafting into the audience.

The music is Felix Mendelssohn’s Incidental Music to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Op. 61. A German Romantic composer of the early 19th century, his opus, according to those who write for AllMusic and are much more knowledgeable about the history and classifications of music than this writer, “combines the traditional forms and structures of classical music with the feeling and expression of the Romantic era.” “Feeling and expression” are the key words for those listening to this gorgeous music that feels like it is embracing the play, enhancing its light and airy feel, elevating it to an even higher level of sensual enchantment.

Staging for the play by David Dwyer, divides it into three sections: two Doric columns delineating the palace of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, stage right; garlanded trees and voluptuous vines and flowers center stage where the fairy queen, Titania, sleeps in her bower; and a rustic cabin stage left for the bumbling actors, or mechanicals, who perform the Interlude, Pyramus and Thisbe, at the weddings. In addition, video projections designed by Brian Milbrand on the shell surrounding the stage enrich the settings with images of huge Doric columns and caryatids that surround the palace, a forest of trees, and a blinking night sky.

The large cast expertly handles the dialogue and characterizations, often while racing through the forest. Aleks Malejs is superb as Titania, the fairy queen. She is light as air, a gossamer presence who barely touches the ground as she moves through her domain, her voice like a melody. Her counterpart, Vincent O’Neill as Oberon seemed flat in comparison, so unusual for that talented gentleman.

Brendan Didio is great fun as Puck. He is light as a feather springing through the forest, a wicked little grin on his face. Phillip Farugia is a hoot as Bottom, the maladroit actor turned into a donkey by Puck. He is hilariously inept. The mixed-up young lovers (Kayla Storto, Kit Kuebler, David Wysocki and Nick Stevens) are first-rate. As is everyone else in this very fine cast, all of whom appear to be having as much fun as the audience, except for poor David Lundy as the very very nervous Starvling.

Songs are performed by The Women’s Choir of Buffalo, directed by Kathleen Bassett. Karen D’Angelo and Maria Parker are the fairy soloists. They both have beautiful voices, although it was difficult to understand the words as their voices did not carry far into the audience.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” an original work by Shakespeare, is a comedy that never ceases to delight, even in this abridged version. Mendelssohn’s music, which includes that very famous Wedding March familiar to anyone who has ever been anywhere near a wedding, is a heavenly addition to the play.

All in all, an absolutely intoxicating brew. Kudos to everyone involved.

There are but two performances remaining, one on Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and another on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. This is a must see for both music and theater lovers. So be not fools, ye mortals. Get thee to Kleinhans this weekend. You will be glad you did.

4 Stars (of 4) – “magical ‘Midsumer Night’s Dream,'” Randy Schiff, Buffalo News

… At Kleinhans Music Hall, we see another kind of marriage: a perfect matrimony of theater and music, as Irish Classical Theatre and the Buffalo Philharmonic jointly stage a magical “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Directed by Fortunato Pezzimenti, this spectacular production features a vibrant and uniformly excellent cast who bring to vivid life Shakespeare’s wondrous tale of a pair of couples, at first confused, and then brought together, by fairy chaos.

The play’s inspired set (designed by David Dwyer) … an ancient Athenian forest filled with weirdly bright birch-trees and flowers. With video projections … (designed by Brian Milbrand), Pezzimenti creates a whimsically colorful atmosphere for Shakespeare’s wild play.

JoAnn Falletta’s adept conducting of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra enriches the theater experience, as she organically integrates airy and Romantic selections from Felix Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” into the performance …

Numerous performances make this a must-see production …

David Wysocki is outstanding as Lysander, convincingly conveying his ardent passion … Lysander’s competition with Demetrius (Nick Stevens) creates some hysterical physical comedy.

Kit Kuebler is fantastic as Helena … Kayla Storto is equally engaging as Hermia … Kuebler and Storto offer truly enthralling and endearing comic energy.

Vincent O’Neill provides both humor and regality as Theseus. O’Neill also looks splendidly strange and powerful in his role as the fairy king Oberon …

In a standout performance, Aleks Malejs is riveting in her dual roles as Theseus’s bride-to-be, Hippolyta, and the fairy queen Titania … Malejs delivers the play’s most wildly comic moments as she falls for a literal jackass …

Dudney Joseph is hilarious as Tom Snout, whose absolute seriousness while playing the Wall in immensely entertaining. However, Philip Farugia (as Bottom) and Kevin Kennedy (as Flute) steal the show-within-the show.

Farugia’s death-scene as Pyramus is a piece of comic exaggeration for the ages.

Read full review.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
by Randy Schiff, The Buffalo News
Published January 18, 2020|Updated January 18, 2020
4 stars (out of four)
Through Jan. 19 at Kleinhans Music Hall (3 Symphony Circle). Tickets are $39-94 (box office, website).

“delightful, nostalgia-filled, lively” – Ann Marie Cusella, buffalovibe.com

Looking at childhood Christmases through the bifocals of age is a pastime that warms the hearts of those sitting at table or around a fire celebrating Christmas present, or just quietly reminiscing to a friend about the time the tree fell over onto Aunt Pearl, or the oven stopped working mid-turkey-roasting, or Uncle Eugene scored a five-day pass from the Army and surprised everyone on Christmas Eve. When the person reminiscing is Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet and writer of the prose poem, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, the stories resonate with lyrical language and sly wit.

Adapted as a musical in 1982 by Jeremy Brooks and Adrian Mitchell, some of the songs in A Child’s Christmas in Wales are traditional Welsh in origin, and evoke a spirit and nostalgia for a gentler, simpler time that exists in the imaginations of former children everywhere. It is also peppered with some very witty ditty’s, one about serving a drink for the postman (played to the hilt by Christian Brandjes) when he calls with Christmas parcels.

Opening the musical, narrator Vincent O’Neill cruises the stage artfully speaking Thomas’s words that evoke a time and place from his childhood, where “All the Christmases roll down towards the two tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street, and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged freezing waves…” O’Neill enters at various times to move the story along to the next memory, where the remainder of the large and first-rate cast act out the tale.

At the heart of the story are Young Dylan and his parents, a family in the town of Swansea on the Atlantic coast of Wales. Tyler Eisenmann, a 10th grade student at Frontier High School, excels in the role of the imaginative, exuberant boy who grows into the famous poet. Having a lanky frame and bright presence, he handles the songs, dancing, and dialogue with aplomb. Ben Michael Moran plays several roles, the main one being Father. His baritone is in fine fettle in songs sweet and silly. His turn as the old man in the park is hilarious. Michele Marie Roberts is Mother, who is a warm woman with that sharp tongue so beloved by the Celts. She is very funny when the newfangled gas stove gets too hot.

The mood is upbeat, the foibles of the aunties and uncles who arrive en masse for Christmas dinner are more charming than disturbing. Hannah (a very funny Nicole Cimato), puts rum in her tea but once a year, yet carries a flask inside her dress, and becomes increasingly inebriated as the evening wears on, resulting in some ear-splitting singing. Tudyr (a very dour and pessimistic Gregory Gjurich) sees only the worst in everything. He is married to the pill-popping, outgoing Bessie, played with great comic timing by Charmagne Chi. Megan Callahan is the ephemeral Elieri, who brings magic to Young Dylan. Karen Harty is Nellie. Brittany Bassett and Renee Landrigan are the giggly, screechy, annoying cousins Brenda and Glenda.

The only caveat to this otherwise very engaging production directed by Chris Kelly—the children’s games. They find themselves in jungles, deserts, fighting horrible cats and other monsters in the town park and by the sea. The scenes are paeans to the imaginations of youth living in an isolated town, where a gas stove is a novelty and telephones and radios have yet to make an appearance. However, they go on too long, causing one to wish the little darlings would just move along. It is a small distraction that is quickly put aside when the next scene arrives.

Music Director Joseph Donahoe III plays several instruments and several roles, including Young Dylan’s buddy, Jim. With just a piano, two guitars, and a violin that made a short appearance, the music is understated, sometimes mournful, sometimes joyful, sometimes sweet, with always just the right feel to it. His musical cohort is Brandon Berry, who also plays one of the boys and several other roles.

The production staff do fine work, creating a feel for a time almost a hundred years past through Set Design by Primo Thomas, Lighting Design by Matt DiVita, Sound Design by Tom Makar and Costume Design by Vivian DelBello.

And what would Christmas in Wales be without “spooky stories and sing-songs?” They are in abundance in this delightful, nostalgia-filled, lively production. While traditions may differ, the themes are universal and, if you are of a certain age, you will find yourself back with the family, friends, hopes, and dreams of your youth.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales is at Irish Classical Theatre Company through December 15th.


“Third time is a charm for ICTC” – Cherie Messore, buffalotheatreguide.com

Long before there were hours of football on TV and the ubiquitous electronic devices in the hands of teens at the dinner table, families made Christmas memories by spending time together. They would sing songs, tell stories, indulge in the art of conversation, and help rescue various kitchen catastrophes. You know, like when your new-fangled gas stove blows up and makes a foul (fowl?) mess of Christmas dinner.

These moments are at the heart of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company now to December 15. Based on the prose of Dylan Thomas, his 1952 reflections were adapted for the stage 30 years later by Jeremy Brooks and Adrian Mitchell.

It’s a simple work, really. Thomas’ stories about his boyhood Christmas celebrations could be anyone’s stories. The happy sounds from a houseful of relatives, those memory snapshots of racing around outside with cousins and pals, poignant thoughts of the older generation now passed…all part of the Christmas canon. ICTC does this show really well.

Director Chris Kelly has the dream team of local actors on stage for this, starting with Joseph Donohue III and Brandon Barry (from The Albrights) providing the music. They give a contemporary nod to some Christmas classics, starting with the plaintive sweetness of “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

Vincent O’Neill is grown up Dylan; his reminiscing is wistful, almost ethereal. Young Dylan is Tyler Eisenmann, totally in the moment enjoying his youth and family foibles. Michele Roberts as Mother; Ben Michael Moran as Father; Nicole Cimato as Hannah with her ever-present flask; Christian Brandjes as Gwyn; Karen Harty as Nellie; Brittany Bassett as Brenda; Renee Landrigan as Glenda; Gregory Gjurich as Tudyr; Charmagne Chi as Bessie; and Megan Callahan as Elieri wear their roles like perfectly knit woolen mittens.

Highlights are Chi’s rendition of “The Holly and the Ivy” in its pure loveliness and Roberts’ comic chops when she’s coping with that new-fangled gas stove in her kitchen.

I always appreciate ICTC’s artful and minimal staging; it’s elegant to suggest a living room, the streetscape and countryside with almost very few set elements. Set Designer Primo Thomas feeds our imagination with this beautifully. Director Kelly then has to lead his cast through imaginary spaces and places under a canopy of flickering lanterns suspended overhead. These small touches, with sparse pine bough and buffalo check bows suggest countryside and homemade décor. Perfection. With a cast this talented, it looks effortless.

“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” is all about sentiment and nostalgia in the season where heart-felt memories ground us and remind us that hearth and home are best. Thank you, ICTC, for this early gift.


“a magical Christmas to behold.” – Melinda Miller, The Buffalo News

There are few things more powerful than memories of childhood Christmases, partly because of the magic and anticipation, and partly because of the traditions and familiarity …

Into that “wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays,” (Dylan) Thomas wrote, “I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find.”

And thus “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” was born, chock-full of memories of snow and packages, feasting and foolery, populated with friends and family and the postman and neighborhood toughs, all spending this day of all days in all their varied ways …

The tale was first intended to be read alone or aloud … but in recent times it also has been turned into a charming theatrical … With an abundance of music underlining the mischief and merrymaking, it is a magical Christmas to behold.

… Vincent O’Neill gives a lyrical performance as the adult Dylan Thomas … Tyler Eisenmann as young Dylan (is) so comfortable with his stage family he seems to have grown up with them …

Of course, he is surrounded by excellent castmates and mentors here, starting with director Chris Kelly and music director Joseph Donohue III …

The whole group is so in sync you can imagine all of them celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah and all future holidays together.

Favorite moments are watching Brandjes as the postman on his rounds, collecting a drink at every house … Later, when young Dylan and the other children go for a prowl outside, they resemble a pack of Dead End Kids looking for action, making it up when they have to, and teasing policemen behind their backs …

In the end … the takeaway is one of happy satisfaction, providing one more day for the snowball of memory.

3 stars (out of four)

Click here for full review. https://buffalonews.com/2019/11/23/music-memories-star-in-irish-classicals-childs-christmas-in-wales/

“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” opens Friday, November 22

“I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
– Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

The Irish Classical Theatre Company is proud to present a special Holiday offering, A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, adapted for the stage by Jeremy Brooks & Adrian Mitchell. A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES will be presented Friday, November 22 through Sunday, December 15, 2019 at ICTC’s Andrews Theatre, 625 Main Street, Buffalo, New York.

A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES is a spirited Holiday musical entertainment for the whole family. It is recommended for children ages 8 and up. Director Chris Kelly describes this Christmas Musical as “a heart-based patchwork of different Christmas memories lovingly stitched together.”

A wonderfully nostalgic look at that most magical of seasons, A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES gives us all the opportunity to experience a magical snow-filled Christmas through the innocent eyes of youth, celebrated in the glorious words of Dylan Thomas. Vincent O’Neill stars as the grown Dylan, revisiting a dreamlike Christmas of days gone by.

A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES is directed by ICTC Associate Director Chris Kelly, who last Season warmed our hearts with his fresh and fanciful production of Jane Austen’s “Sense & Sensibility.” Previous ICTC directing credits include A Little Night Music and Minding Frankie. Chris, an Artistic Associate at MusicalFare, has also directed for Second Generation Theatre, New Phoenix Theatre, Theatre of Youth and All For One Productions. Chris is the recipient of four ARTIE Awards as well as two Best of Buffalo awards from Buffalo Spree for both acting and directing.

A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES stars Vincent O’Neill as Dylan Thomas; Tyler Eisenmann as young Dylan; Michele Roberts as Mother; Ben Michael Moran as Father; Nicole Cimato as Hannah; Christian Brandjes as Gwyn; Karen Harty as Nellie; Brittany Bassett as Brenda; Renee Landrigan as Glenda; Gregory Gjurich as Tudyr; Charmagne Chi as Bessie and Megan Callahan as Elieri. Music Director Joseph Donohue III who plays Jim and Brandon Barry who plays Tom, members of the pop/rock band The Albrights, provide the show’s lively music.

Performances will take place at The Andrews Theatre,625 Main Street, Buffalo, Friday, November 22, continuing through Sunday, December 15, 2019. Curtain times will be Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30PM, with Matinees on Saturdays at 3PM and Sundays at 2PM.

Young Professionals – Save the Date – Thursday, November 21, 4:30-6:30PM

Young Professionals wanted! Join the actors, staff, and friends of the Irish Classical Theatre Company for a free-admission Cocktail Hour at Marble + Rye, 112 Genesee Street, Buffalo, on Thursday, November 21 from 4:30-6:30PM.

Mixology is the aim, as Young Business Professionals mix and mingle with Young Theatre Professionals while enjoying a good mixed drink!

Enjoy seasonal cocktails and mixology demonstrations, learn about ICTC, a gem of regional theatre, and enter a free raffle to win eight tickets, eight drinks at the ICTC Chris O’Neill Lounge, ICTC theatre cups, and more.

This event is an open to all (21+ please).

Presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company Young Professionals Committee and the Buffalo Junior Chamber of Commerce (Buffalo Jaycees).

Learn more about ICTC’s Ireland Tour Thursday, December 12, 11AM!


Plan now to experience Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Coast & Literary Dublin with your host, ICTC Artistic Director Vincent O’Neill, June 12-20, 2020.

Your memorable 8-day 7-night tour includes breathtaking natural wonders, majestic historic sites, celebrated cultural icons, and all the captivating beauty and charm that only the Ireland possesses.

Your once-in-a lifetime Irish adventure will include Galway, Westport, Yeats Country, a guided tour of Dublin, a literary Pub Crawl, a scenic cruise on Lough Corrib, and much, much more.

After the presentation, enjoy some light refreshments, mix and mingle with Vincent and your fellow hibernophiles and celebrate the adventures that await you..

Contact Cassie Cameron at 853-1380 x106 or development@irishclassical.com to find out more!
This informational event is free and open to the public.
There is no obligation.

“‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” engrosses and shocks – Michael Rabice, BWW review

by Michael Rabice, broadwayworld.com, Sep. 30, 2019

Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre Company has chosen to open their 2019-20 season with a rarity, ‘TIS PITY, SHE’S A WHORE by John Ford. First seen in 1633, the question arises as to whether this Jacobean drama still deserves to be produced. Happily, this often shocking play has enough intrigue to keep the audience engaged. By its final moments, the elements of incest, murder, poisoning, and deception lead to a drama of epic proportions that grips the viewer.

With a nod to Romeo and Juliet, Ford’s story of forbidden love is pressed to the max as young Annabella must choose a proper suitor, but her brother Giovanni confesses that no one can love her more than he, and she agrees that she equally desires him. Lord Soranzo is the most likely man to wed her due to his military position, but he has a spurned lover (Hippolita) who seeks revenge on him. The young soldier Grimaldi offers his hand, while the wealthy but foolish Bergetto is also in line. Bergetto (Adam Yellen) and his servant Poggio (Aleks Malejs) are stock characters from the commedia dell’arte genre of Italian theatre. The Catholic church serves as the moral backdrop, as Friar Bonaventura (Christian Brandjes) counsels Giovanni and a Cardinal, played by Adam Yellen, proclaims his condemnation of the situation and claims the property of the household for his own use in the Catholic church.

Director Fortunato Pezzimenti has updated the time period to Pre-War Italy in Parma, without much effect positive or negative. His deft hand paces the action well, despite an overly long expository first act. The sheer nature of an incestuous marriage is shocking enough, and Ford does not stop there in his desire to jar the audience’s sensibilities. But in using incest as a central theme, he prepares the viewer for other unthinkable acts that truly heighten the drama.

Jeremy Kreuzer is Giovanni, and brings a youthful and earnest portrayal of the lovesick brother. Kreuzer’s multi-layered performance is full of soul searching as he grapples with his desirous feelings, but morphs to crazed lover. He is asked to perform a mad scene that would rival that of grand opera’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” and he handles this with great conviction. Anna Krempholtz is the object of everyone’s desires, the fair Annabella. She brings a self assured nature that almost convinces the audience she is able to love her brother as well as take a husband. Ms. Krempholtz is lovely to watch, but her future comes to a crashing end as her new husband learns of her forbidden love.

Adriano Gatto gives a winning performance as Lord Soranzo, dashing and fully in control. He dominates his scenes, as he should, and brings some great physicality to the drama in the second act, causing audible gasps at his handling of his new bride. Roland Martin Gomez is Soranzo’s man servant, who becomes an integral character as he is manipulated by Hippolita to take Soranzo down. Mr. Gomez dives into the meaty role, clearly enjoying the twists and turns that Ford has written for him.

Aleks Malejs is delightfully conniving as the evil Hippolita, oozing a seductiveness to conceal her inner demons. She effectively leads the trio of dancers who entertain at Annabella’s wedding in a sinuous dance of love.

Charmagne Chi brings levity to the play, as the tutor and confidante to Annabella, whose own comical name is Putana (meaning whore in Italian). Despite some very unflattering costuming, Chi’s bubbling personality is endearing as she attempts to protect the young lovers, but her chatty nature leads to her ultimate demise.

The simplistic set by David Dwyer provided a multi level playing area, but could have benefited from a few more regal trappings.

Irish Classical Theatre has essentially unearthed a riveting drama that at first glance may seem like a dated piece of melodrama, but has instead been presented in a thoughtful production that engrosses the audience. Such programming is to be lauded.