“The laughs come often and solidly … ICTC has a hit on its hands.” – Brad Auerbach, Enertainment Today

There are jewels of regional theatre spread across the country, and the Irish Classical Theatre is counted among them. Prominent in the burgeoning Buffalo Theatre District, Irish Classical Theatre is helping to draw people to the formerly dark sidewalks of a once-tired city.

Joe Orton’s “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” slyly balances edgy sexual innuendos and proclivities with more traditional British humo(u)r. Written in the mid-1960s as fresh voices were being given a broader platform, the play pricked up many ears and bushy eyebrows with its brashness.

Indeed, when it came time for The Beatles to move to the big screen, they hired Orton to write a screenplay. The results were too edgy for the then squeaky clean Liverpudlians to pursue. (That did not stop George Harrison from later underwriting various Monty Python film projects).

At the Irish Classical Theatre, Anthony J. Grande plays the titular character. As a rather louche chap, perhaps hiding from the law, Mr. Sloane is seeking new digs. Grande does a good job evoking what is needed to appeal to the landlord Kath (Kelli Bocock-Natale) and alternately to her brother Ed (Stan Klimecko). The siblings’ father (Gerry Maher) has little affection for his son or Mr. Sloane; the father’s homophobia undoubtedly standing in for society at large.

The roles of the siblings are well-assayed. Indeed, the brother and sister characters are crucial to the play’s success. As a four hander, the script calls for deft interaction among the actors. Kath is a rather lonely and somewhat clueless zaftig, whom Mr. Sloane quickly seduces. The more worldly brother equally sees Mr. Sloane as a younger boy he wants nearer. Klimecko is excellent in his shifting forgiveness and ruthlessness.

The laughs come often and solidly, and with little dialogue reference to the era in which it was written, the play works decades after I first saw it.
The set (by David Dwyer) is laid out cleverly, allowing for three exits through the audience surrounding the apartment flat.

With crisp direction by Greg Natale and a solid command of script by the quartet of actors, Irish Classical Theatre has a hit on its hands.

4 Stars (out of 4) “‘Mr. Sloane’ is perverse, cynical joy” – Anthony Chase, The Buffalo News

Published June 15, 2019|Updated June 15, 2019

… From the first moment of the play, when Kelli Bocock-Natale races onto the stage as sexually frustrated “Kath,” the world of Joe Orton explodes onto the stage of the Andrews Theatre in all its joyfully perverse and cynical glory.

Click here to read full review, including historical context.

In “Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” middle-aged “Kath” meets young and handsome “Mr. Sloane” and brings him home, ostensibly as a potential boarder. What ensues is a story of socially inappropriate sexual desires run amok.

Both Kath and her closeted brother Ed, played by Stan Klimecko, are sexually attracted to Mr. Sloane. They become obsessed with him and competitive for his attention. Meanwhile, their father, played by Gerry Maher, recognizes Mr. Sloane, as the young hustler who murdered his boss. Given Mr. Sloane’s assets, this possibility does not concern anybody else too much. This collision of sexual desire, criminality, and sheer absurdity, characterizes the small but enormously influential dramatic output of Joe Orton.

Director Greg Natale has assembled a dream cast for this production.

To begin, Kelli Bocock-Natale is a comic genius … Her facial expressions, her gestures, her intonations, and her impeccable timing combine to create a work of hilarious wonder … Beneath a façade of guileless vulnerability, she is a shark. We delight in her every word and double take – the way she walks, the way she cries, the way she manipulates her world to satisfy her inappropriate and insatiable desires.

Coming from his recent triumph as sleazy Cosmo Vittelli in the Torn Space Theater adaptation of John Cassavetes’ “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” actor Stan Klimecko seems to have trademarked onstage creepiness. As Ed, the way he exudes perverse delight while leering at Mr. Sloane simultaneously makes our skin crawl and triggers uncontrollable giggles. He embodies the character wholly and convincingly …

Costume designer Vivian DelBello has served these actors exceptionally well with clothes that amplify their characters brilliantly: Bocock-Natale in an alternately array of fashions for housewifery and for the boudoir; Klimecko in attire that speaks to both his sleaziness and his social pretentions.

Buffalo’s consummate character actor, Gerry Maher, is ideal in the role of “Kemp,” the father who represents the doomed voice of truth and reason in the demented world of this play. He deploys his pint-sized feistiness with fervor, and squeezes every drop of comedy and horror from the script.

Finally, Anthony J. Grande is hilarious as sociopathic and opportunistic, yet irresistibly charismatic Mr. Sloane. He is the bleached blond blank slate onto which Kath and Ed project their unfulfilled desires, and Grande gives a wonderfully underplayed performance.

Natale’s direction makes excellent use of the circular Andrews Theatre space. The production moves briskly, and gives these expert comic actors space to breath life into their roles. The play remains fresh, and while it may no longer be shocking, it still inspires irreverent joy.

“Entertaining Mr. Sloane”
4 stars (out of four)

“masterfully staged … visceral … a ‘Hamlet’ to remember” – Ann Marie Cusella, buffalo vibe

Posted April 29, 2019
From the moment Hamlet begins, in darkness with only a weak light from the soldier Francisco’s lantern as he creeps around the perimeter of the stage/castle on his nightly rounds, the audience is completely engaged in the action on stage. We immediately enter the dark and troubled world that is Elsinore Castle, and The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

Director Kate LoConti Alcocer and her team have masterfully staged this Hamlet with a clear and unified vision that is truly compelling. She creates a visceral experience from minute one that only intensifies as the tragedy unfolds. She constructs images that blend the talents of the actors, sound, set, lighting, and costume designers to produce an emotional experience that will not soon be forgotten. For instance…

In Act One, when Hamlet and Ophelia first meet upon Hamlet’s return to Elsinore, they stand across the stage from one another, awkward and unsure. The music then suddenly heightens into a romantic orchestral piece. They rush to each other center stage, a spotlight bathing them while they passionately kiss. Then the moment is over. The music stops. They return to their places, awkward and unsure. Costumed by Jessica Wegrzyn in modern, but not contemporary dress, they are like the lovers in a 1950s movie, circumstantially separated and full of repressed desire. This short scene speaks volumes about the power of imagery to swiftly expose true feelings and desires. Certainly not in the original production, it nevertheless feels like an integral part of the play. Other images in the play also produce this effect.

Hamlet, Shakespeare’s longest play, is full of words, words, words—some of the most famous in the English language. In just over three hours including intermission, many of those words are spoken by the Prince himself. So as the prince goes, so goes the play.

Anthony Alcocer (a close relative of the Director) is a terrific Hamlet. From his petulant school boy, I’m-not-even-going-to-look-at-you-Claudius entrance, to his final words, Mr. Alcocer embodies the grief-stricken, angry, confused, heart-broken young man who is ripped to shreds by the loss of his father, by his mother’s betrayal, and then by the demands of his father’s ghost. His emotions are heart-wrenching, palpable. He is completely committed, completely open, never holds back, and has great range of feeling. He passionately expresses his rage and grief, then quietly contemplates the sadness that underlies them. He horrifies himself and everyone else by his deliberately vicious treatment of Ophelia. He is tortured and confused by not knowing if the ghost is his father or a manifestation of the Devil. He is tormented by his love for his mother and his anger at her betrayal. He nostalgically, almost sweetly, tells Horatio about his childhood memories of Yorick. He makes a flippant, offhand remark with a sardonic smile, and is then in a rage a moment later. His initial laughter and joy at the beginning of the sword competition with Laertes in the denouement is a window into what might have been for this young prince, raised by loving parents to become king. I can only think how exhausting and exhilarating an experience this Hamlet must be for the very talented Mr. Alcocer, who in an interview stated this is the role he has most wanted to play.

He is surrounded and supported by an excellent cast that are very much up to the mark in this challenging play.

Anna Krempholtz comes into her own as Ophelia when she is attacked by Hamlet and goes mad after the death of Polonius. She makes a very believable grief-stricken young woman driven insane by Hamlet’s abuse and her father’s death, singing and dancing, playing the flute, handing out herbs and flowers while she sinks deeper into despair.

Rolando Martin Gómez is very otherworldly indeed in his role as the Ghost. Without even the benefit of creepy makeup, he moves as one too tired to lift his foot, with a slight reverb in his voice that enhances his ghostly speech. Later he is all laughter and mirth as the Player King.

Chris Kelly is excellent as Polonius, the verbose counselor to the king and father of Ophelia and Laertes. He expertly expounds at length on matters that are often contradictory. He also has fun with his small role as the Gravedigger, using an accent that would require subtitles were this play a movie.

Kristin Tripp Kelly is an elegant Gertrude who keeps her emotions in check until her love for her tormented son overcomes her reticence.

Matt Witten plays Claudius as a calculating and restrained villain, who shows little passion and whose one, dark-night-of-the-soul moment is quickly replaced by his next nefarious plan to solidify his position.

Adam Yellen is a great, loving friend as Horatio, and Patrick Cameron as Laertes is very good as he expresses his love for Hamlet after his rage at him over the death of Polonius. Peter S. Raimondo and Jake Hayes round out this excellent cast as the spies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and others.

The fight scenes, choreographed by Adam Rath, are realistic and scary. Lighting Design by Brian Cavanagh and Sound Design by Tom Makar enchance the entire production while never overwhelming the action, as in the eerie sounds and weak lighting in the opening scene. Jessica Wegrzyn’s set intensifies the sense of things being all awry, as mismatched chairs are strewn about, an old ladder leans up against a table, paint cans act as stools. These are all inside a three-sided wooden structure without walls, everything unfinished. Her costumes aid in defining the characters, from Gertrude’s stunning blue satin gown, to the Ghost’s long grey double-breasted overcoat hanging loose on his shoulders, to Horatio’s preppy V-neck sweater and Hamlet’s completely black ensemble.

The expressions and movements of the actors are in very close proximity to the audience in the small, intimate space of the Andrews Theatre. Souls are laid bare for all to see and absolutely nothing is held back. Kate LoConti Alcocer has given us a Hamlet to remember.

Kudos to all.

You can see it at Irish Classical Theatre Company in the Andrews Theatre through May 19th.

3-1/2 Stars – “Excellent directing, depth of talent … make ‘Hamlet’ a hit” – The Buffalo News

by Randy Schiff, The Buffalo News
3-1/2 Stars (out of 4)

“… With excellent directing and a well-edited script that remains true to Shakespeare while keeping the action flowing briskly, Kate LoConti Alcocer offers an outstanding ‘Hamlet..’

A great strength of this production is the depth and talent of its cast. Chris Kelly is consistently engaging as the smarmy and insufferable Polonius, while Adam Yellen provides both balance and humor as Hamlet’s level headed university friend, Horatio …

This ‘Hamlet’ is enriched by actors who, in playing multiple roles give the production the spirit of Renaissance theatre. Peter Raimondo and Jake Hayes are … superb as the comically inept spies, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern … Rolando Martin Gomes is compelling, both as the sublimely sorrowful ghost of Hamlet’s father, and as the bright-eyed traveling actor who charms Hamlet. Patrick Cameron is excellent as Laertes …

Exuding both intense emotions and biting wit, Anthony Alcocer delivers a riveting performance … Alcocer offers an edgy Hamlet … When not brooding over his twisted family or the brutishness of reality, Alcocer’s Hamlet electrifies us with his intense interactions with friends and foes alike …

(Anna) Krempholtz (as Ophelia) … gives a breathtaking performance as her plaintive songs, wild words and frantic gestures channel the heartbreaking depths of despair …

Read full review here.

FREE & OPEN TO THE PUBLIC! ICTC Lecture Series continues 05/18, 2PM with Dr. Barbara Bono on “Hamlet”

FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!  SATURDAY, MAY 18, 2PM … Renowned Shakespearean scholar, Dr. Barbara Bono, will present a Talk entitled: “Hamlets and Your Hamlet: A Conversation about Famous Hamlets, the ICTC Hamlet, and Your Hamlet” at the Irish Classical Theatre Company in collaboration with its production of “Hamlet.”

The Talks will be held at ICTC Sunday, May 12 at approximately 4:30 PM, following the Matinee performance at 2PM; and Saturday, May 18 at 2 PM, prior to the Matinee performance at 3PM. Both will be presented at ICTC’s Andrews Theatre, 625 Main Street, Buffalo, in the heart of Buffalo’s Theatre District.  Tickets to these two and other performances are available at: https://irishclassical.com/hamlet/.

If you think about it, pretty much everybody has a Hamlet. The most famous text of western literature after the Bible, a play full of questions which literally beings with the challenge “Who’s there?”, we have all heard something about it, and some of us think we know it very well indeed. Deeply contemplative but driven by revenge, political and skeptical, misogynist and Oedipal, melancholic and very funny, it challenges us with its twists and contradictions. And then there are the performances, in a stage tradition extending from Richard Burbage in Shakespeare’s own day to Benedict Cumberbatch in ours, and including film versions from Laurence Olivier through Nicol Williamson and Mel Gibson to Kenneth Branagh, David Tennant, and Ethan Hawke. The Irish Classical Theatre Company’s new production of the play offers audiences a chance to think yet again about what is their Hamlet, and to talk it over before or after the play with UB Shakespearean Dr. Barbara Bono.

“Hamlet” is directed by Kate LoConti Alcocer and stars Anthony Alcocer as “Hamlet.”

Brief Biography:
Barbara Bono, Associate Professor in the UB Departments of English and Global Gender and Sexuality Studies, has been an all-purpose Shakespearean for over 40 years now, studying and teaching his works in both their historical and theoretical contexts but also in performance and film adaptations. In addition to her scholarly credentials, she has received several teaching and mentoring awards and has, for twenty years, been UB’s representative to the Folger Institute of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. In 2016 she organized the year-long region-wide commemorative celebration, Buffalo Bard 2016: 400 Years Since Shakespeare, and, as a regular subscriber to the Irish Classical Theatre, is delighted to have been asked to participate in this behind-the-scenes and across-the-boards collaboration

ICTC announces transition of Artistic Leadership

Vincent O’Neill, Artistic Director of the Irish Classical Theatre Company, and Kevin C. Brady, President of ICTC’s Board of Trustees, today announced its plans for a transition in Artistic Leadership and an exciting vision for the company’s future. The transition will commence in the 2019-2020 Season and culminate during the celebration of ICTC’s 30th Anniversary Season in 2020-2021.

Vincent O’Neill will remain ICTC’s Artistic Director, and Kate LoConti Alcocer, actor, director, administrator and educator, will join the Irish Classical Theatre Company as Associate Artistic Director on June 1, 2019.

For the first three months of the transition period, Ms. LoConti Alcocer will work closely with ICTC Producing Director Fortunato Pezzimenti on all administrative functions of the company. Then, for one full Season (September 2019 through June 2020), she will work in tandem with and under the supervision of Vincent O’Neill on all artistic and production aspects of the Company.

Subsequent to the successful completion of this extended mentoring period, Ms. LoConti Alcocer will become Executive Artistic Director on July 1, 2020, with absolute discretion, independence and authority in all artistic and production matters of the Irish Classical Theatre Company.

“It is with great pleasure that we welcome Kate LoConti Alcocer to the Irish Classical Theatre Company’s creative team,” said O’Neill. “Discussions about her role in the Company and her vision for the future of ICTC began in May 2018 and came to fruition with the enthusiastic approval of ICTC’s Board of Trustees on September 2018, This calibrated transition in Artistic leadership will allow the Irish Classical Theatre Company to move forward seamlessly into 2020 and beyond with Ms. LoConti Alcocer at the helm,” he continued.

“I first knew Kate as Freshman acting student at U.B. and have followed her stellar career ever since – from her MFA at Columbia University to her work with Shattered Globe Company in Chicago, and the Steppenwolf and Goodman Theatres. She has earned an exceptional reputation as a first-class actress on many stages in Western New York, including 14 leading roles at ICTC.
But beyond all of her qualifications and experience, what made me feel totally comfortable in handing over the reins is the extraordinary person that she is: her talent, intelligence, artistry, passion, commitment, energy, and above all her absolute love for her art, and her total dedication to high standards in acting, directing and design,” O’Neill concluded.

Founded in 1990 by Vincent O’Neill, Josephine Hogan, the late Chris O’Neill and the late Dr. James Warde, the Irish Classical Theatre Company is currently producing its 28th Season of plays at the highest level of artistic excellence for the audiences of Western New York, Southern Ontario and beyond.

The Irish Classical Theatre Company is located at the Andrews Theatre, 625 Main Street in the heart of Buffalo’s Theatre District.
Succession planning support by the Cullen Foundation.

“The casting of Jack Hunter and Adriano Gatto is brilliant.” – Anthony Chase, theatretalkbuffalo.com

By Anthony Chase

The theater is driven by empathy. How deliciously complicated that becomes when the central figure of the play is Richard III or Richard Nixon! The current Irish Classical Theatre production of Peter Morgan’s 2006 play, Frost/Nixon, taunts us with the suggestion that one of the most despised American presidents of all time might have rescued his place in history with a convincing television appearance.

The play follows the planning, production, and airing of a series of interviews conducted by British journalist David Frost with disgraced Richard Nixon in 1977. Nixon had resigned from the presidency in 1974, rather than face impeachment and removal from office in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

The appeal of the play is the tension created during the planning and preparation for the interviews, and in the battle between Frost and Nixon for each to make or break his reputation while millions watched on television. The metaphor of a boxing match is evoked in the play and made visually literal by Brian Cavanagh’s handsome set, which frames the action in a kind of boxing ring, a square platform painted with a stars and stripe motif. Using this flexible stage area, the production makes dynamic use of the circular Andrews Theatre stage.

The Irish Classical production of Frost/Nixon opens at a time when we have a president who clearly understands the power of television, but has not been having a very good week. It is valuable to recall that historically, Nixon also understood the power of television. In fact, he knew television as well as David Frost did. He had famously salvaged his career with a televised 1952 speech in which he endeared himself to the American people by evoking his modest means; his loving wife, Pat (who appeared on camera); and by insisting, amidst charges of improper campaign financing, that he would keep the gift of a black and white dog that his daughters had named “Checkers.” At the same time, he knew that his tendency to sweat on camera, and a five o-clock shadow that made him look haggard, damaged him terribly when he appeared in the televised 1960 presidential debates beside cool and handsome John F. Kennedy.

This is the historic background.

This production of Frost /Nixon, which Brian Cavanagh has directed as well as designed, builds on the mythological status that the actual 1977 interviews have achieved over time. The casting of Jack Hunter as Richard Nixon, and Adriano Gatto as David Frost is brilliant.

The dramatic tension of the play depends upon the ability of the audience to believe that Nixon might actually win in the court of popular opinion. The casting of Hunter, an actor who is charismatic to the point of being adorable, fuels this. The interplay between Hunter and good-looking and sincere Gatto, heightens the stakes. While the popular imagination has turned Nixon into the Richard III of American Presidents, in reality, he was a master politician. His fall from popularity, after having been reelected in a landslide, carrying 49 of the 50 states and more than 60 percent of the popular vote, was breathtaking.

Appropriately, the play begins with a reference to Aeschylus, the father of Greek tragedy. The great tragedies are stories of the arrogant and the mighty brought low by their flaws. Aeschylus was, in addition, the playwright who introduced a second actor to Greek drama, allowing for the sort of face-off that is Frost/Nixon. This is to be a clash of Titans from the age of network television.
The script is divided into two opposing camps. On one side we have David Frost; his producer, John Birt, played by David Lundy; two researchers, Jim Reston, played by Adam Yellen, and Bob Zelnick, played by Matt Witten; and Frost’s girlfriend, played by Renee Landrigan. These are the protagonists.

On the opposing side, our antagonists are Richard Nixon; his agent Swifty Lazar, played by Ray Boucher; and Nixon’s post-presidential chief of staff, Jack Brennan, played by Peter Palmisano.
Assorted other characters are nimbly played by Jamie O’Neill (with occasional appearances by Boucher and Landrigan). Yellen and Palmisano’s characters also serve as narrators.
The machinery of the play is simple yet clever. Even knowing that history will not be kind to Nixon, we watch the thrust and parry with rapt attention. The laughter and the wincing in the audience are equally palpable. The acting ensemble is perfection.

The 2007 Broadway production of the play, a London transfer with original stars Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon, made generous use of technology, video screens and such. It was thrilling and the actors were marvelous. Langella picked up the third of his four Tony Awards. By contrast, other than a fine sound design by Tom Makar that amps up volume during the interviews and punctuates dramatic moments, and light by Cavanagh, this production is low tech. The emphasis is placed squarely and unforgivingly on Gatto and Hunter as they duke it out for our empathy. Particularly in the intimate space of the Andrews theater, this strategy is also thrilling.

Costume designer Kari Drozd and hair and make-up designer Susan Drozd have had a field day defining the characters visually while recreating the fashions of the period.

Hunter is excellent as Nixon. Deploying the charm of the expert politician, he toys with us, flirting around our knowledge that, yes, this man is a crook. (It can’t be a spoiler to report the historic fact that these interviews culminated with Nixon’s declaration that the President is above the law, and his admission that he participated in a cover-up of the Watergate burglary).

Gatto is his equal, imbuing Frost with the intellect and drive of an ace journalist, but also the flaws of a playboy and bon vivant. We deeply want him to win.

The interplay between the faces of these two actors is splendid. Cavanagh has the actors switch seats in the alternating scenes, so depending upon where you sit, you may be looking squarely at the face of Frost, or at the face of Nixon. This approach effectively creates the impression of looking at television close-ups.

I adored seeing Gatto, as Frost, become numb and sleepy during Nixon’s endless answers in their early exchanges. I was especially pleased that I was looking into his face when he reacted to Nixon’s famous assertion that “When the President does it, that means it’s not illegal!”

Similarly, as Nixon, Hunter’s frustratingly impenetrable smile evokes delighted giggles. His failed efforts not to react when Frost delivers an unwelcome question are also amusing. Hunter effects the man’s gradual disintegration artfully.

A character that I do not particularly remember from seeing the play in 2007, but who pops vividly here, is Reston. As played by Yellen, this is an impassioned but principled man who, in some ways, emerges as the main character of the piece. He is the narrator through whom we come to understand the story, and Yellen plays him simply and believably in a way that boosts the power of the performance. In this tale of the fall of Goliath, Yellen provides a second David.

Of course, no villain is purely evil; no hero is without flaws. Two other characters serve to deepen our understanding of Frost and of Nixon, by providing the audience with eyes that see the good in each man.
Renee Landrigan plays socialite Caroline Cushman, the love interest of Frost, who shows us the man in his private moments. As Brennan, Peter Palmisano gives us an admiring view of Nixon. Both Cushman and Brennan are actual historic figures.

Through Caroline, we understand Frost to be more than a superficial man who cannot control his libido. He is more than a playboy and talk show host pretending to be a serious journalist. Yes, he likes women. But after the initial sexual attraction, Frost, who was involved with a succession of high powered and highly accomplished women during his life, quickly drinks in Caroline’s intellect, and eventually accepts her reasoned insight. Through these interactions, we first realize that Frost might have the depth to disarm Nixon. Landrigan is delightful in the role. (She is also hilarious as contrasting make up artists who interact with Frost and Nixon).

Brennan, as played by Palmisano, is the character through whom we see whatever goodness Nixon possesses. His character views Frost as a lightweight and dilettante; he sees Nixon as a great man, a much-abused leader and patriot. Brennan expresses the optimistic notion that Nixon might restore his reputation and win back the love of the American people through these interviews with a silly British talk show host. As Nixon’s friend and ally we also feel the palpable hits of the man’s downfall through him. As scripted, he is an earnest man, blinded to the truth of Nixon’s flaws by his political biases. Palmisano walks this delicate path, giving the man dignity, without making him a total jerk — just a partial jerk.

Lundy, Boucher, and Witten make a skillful and engaging trio of characters. Boucher convincingly transforms himself into Swifty Lazar, an icon of the period. Lundy and Witten provide the contrasting voices that encourage and admonish Frost as he enters battle. These three talented actors create three distinct and effective character portraits.

Even knowing the historic moment in advance, Nixon’s final confession is astonishing. The genius of the play is to allow us to celebrate the tragedy of Richard Nixon’s with both exhilaration and a kind of solemnity. We empathize with his humanity, which the performance of Jack Hunter exposes, but we also feel the urgent necessity for his destruction.

Original review @ https://www.theatertalkbuffalo.com/post/into-the-ring-with-frost-and-nixon?fbclid=IwAR2WQp6BQNWaBUWj8BVQESawh-JHyqBilLbssW0-a59ROS7Mk_0qsIi7plI.

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“a political tour de force … highly entertaining … stellar cast” – Ann Marie Cusella, Buffalo Vibe

By: Ann Mare Cusella, buffalovibe.com
Posted March 2, 2019

In 1977, David Frost and Richard Nixon contracted to do a series of televised interviews covering domestic and foreign policy, Nixon’s personal life, and of course, Watergate. Frost was a hedonistic talk show host thirsting for re-entry into the lucrative American TV market, while the straight-laced Nixon was seeking a way back into relevance on the American political scene after his 1974 resignation from the presidency. Brokered by talent agent Swifty Lazar, Frost paid Nixon $600,000 plus profit participation for the interviews, an un-heard of concession and an ethical landmine. The playboy and the former president faced off during four 90-minute interviews.

Frost/Nixon, written by Peter Morgan (creator of The Crown on Netflix), explores the negotiations leading up to the interviews and the interviews themselves. Directed by Brian Cavanagh, who also designed the set and lighting, ICTC’s Frost/Nixon is a political tour de force, two hours of often witty, fascinating dialogue by an excellent cast that breaks the fourth wall to draw the audience into the tense negotiations and unfolding drama. The playwright uses this forum to explore the ethics of “checkbook journalism” and the power of television to control political and cultural narrative, as well as providing a highly entertaining evening of theater.

Set on a slightly raised platform painted with stars and stripes, the square “ring” is the centerpiece in and around which journalists, political operatives, and the two opponents plan, argue, confront, and face-off against one another.

Jack Hunter plays Richard Nixon and he is superb. His voice, intonation, and gestures all mirror Nixon, but most importantly, his performance captures the essence of the disgraced president, his cunning, his sense of inferiority and envy of those to-the-manor-born, his greed, his belief in his accomplishments, and his almost naïve curiosity about style, light-hearted fun, and sex just for pleasure. He is a brooding presence, a dour man who lacks a sense of jocularity, but shows flashes of humor. Mr. Hunter reveals all of this, showing us Nixon as a flesh and blood man, complex yet simple, self-hating and self-aggrandizing, guileful and ultimately, defeated.

Adriano Gatto also excels as Frost. He plays him with breezy charm, as a glad-hander who loves the limelight, the parties, and the women that fame afford him. At his entrance, he immediately walks to the audience shaking hands and welcoming everyone, making it clear from the beginning that he is a likeable, happy guy. Underneath that lightness, Mr. Gatto gives a picture of a man who knows what he wants and has the determination and ability under all that charm to go after it. His outward lassaiz-faire attitude belies the strength of purpose within and his killer instinct in the final interview.

Adam Yellen is excellent as the political journalist and Nixon-hater, Jim Reston. He does most of the narration and expresses great glee at the thought of nailing Nixon, and passionate frustration and anger about the profit participation and early interviews. An expert on Watergate, he is joined by Matt Witten as Bob Zelnick, the ABC News producer, both hired to research everything Watergate. Peter Palmisano is Marine-rigid as retired Col. Jack Brennan, Nixon’s post-presidency chief of staff and a stalwart defender of the president. David Lundy is Frost’s producer, John Birt, who does his best to rein in the more excessive proclivities of his star. Ray Boucher has a comic turn as the “hygiene obsessive” Swifty Lazar. Jamie O’Neill and Renee Landrigan as Frost’s girlfriend Caroline Cushing, as well as two very different make-up girls, round out the stellar cast.

At the beginning of the play Reston tells us that the Greek tragedian Aeschylus believed that the gods begrudge humans’ success and delight in causing their downfall. American politics is fraught with just such tragedies, people like Alexander Hamilton who ultimately cannot outrun their personal demons, and crash to the ground like Icarus. Richard Nixon is a prime example of this phenomenon, and Frost/Nixon at ICTC delivers a shadenfreude peek into his undoing.

3-1/2 Stars – “‘Frost Nixon'” dazzling, humorous & timely” – Ben Siegel, The Buffalo News

by Ben Siegel, Published March 2, 2019

Theater is at its best when it uses history to illuminate current times. A great historical play reminds us … that corruption is a timeless craft, that it’s always the cover-up that will get you, and that politics is all optics.

Peter Morgan’s “Frost/Nixon” checks all of these boxes, and in a dazzling new production at Irish Classical Theatre, provides great entertainment, too.

The play recounts the planning and execution of one of the greatest interviews in television history – a four-part series with British journalist David Frost and Richard Nixon … The first of those specials, focused on the Watergate scandal, drew a record-breaking 45 million viewers – still the largest television audience for a political interview – and contained Nixon’s infamous admission …that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” …

As Nixon, Jack Hunter is disarmingly personable, sometimes even cute … a portrait of a fallen man desperate to win back anyone’s trust and maybe affection. In Hunter’s successful pursuit of something new and revelatory, he is this well-prepared production’s biggest triumph.

Adriano Gatto’s Frost … wants to make great television more than anything … Gatto plays both public and private sides with great compensation, both the slick and the small. And he can interrupt Hunter’s Nixon like no other. They are a formidable match.

The rest of this cast is pitch-perfect … Peter Palmisano and Matt Witten are resolute and stern, while David Lundy and Ray Boucher are unreservedly funny. Adam Yellen, in his signature way, pokes and prods the action along with a heavy wink …

Flawless design from Tom Makar on sound, Kari Drozd on costumes, and Susan Drozd on hair …

Director Brian Cavanagh’s staging is fun and inventive …

A raised center platform serves as a pedestal for our appointment viewing; discussions on the perimeter seem to reserve major action for the center ring. Cavanagh’s sexy lighting rekindles the alluring glow of 1970s television …

It’s interesting to note that in 2019, the play feels more immediate than it must have in its 2006 debut, or even its 2008 film adaptation, before it would catch up to our very current reality – the one that makes Watergate look like a quaint flub. There’s no precedent for what’s currently unfolding, but at least there are reminders.

Read full review here.

10,000 Maniacs Benefit Concert at ICTC, Wednesday, March 20!

Limited Seating – One Night Only!
Wednesday March 20th, 7:30PM

Western New York’s very own internationally celebrated alternative band, 10,000 Maniacs, still touring nationwide and recording albums after a stellar run of 35 years, is coming to the Andrews Theatre, home of the Irish Classical Theatre Company in Buffalo NY for a very special benefit concert to raise funds to cover the costs of recording and distributing a new CD – “W.B. Yeats Poems: Words and Music.” The band will play many of their legendary numbers, including Celtic material from their “Twice Told Tales” album.

The CD is the fruit of a longtime artistic collaboration between Vincent O’Neill, Artistic Director of the Irish Classical Theatre Company, and Mary Ramsey, the storied lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs, along with their friend and internationally renowned Yeats scholar, Joseph Hassett.

The album traces the arc of Yeats’s canon of poetry, from his lyrical poems, such as “The Song of Wandering Aengus” and “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” to the powerful and haunting later poems, such as his iconic “Easter 1916.”

The reading of the poems by Vincent O’Neill, accompanied by Mary Ramsey on the violin and viola, with her exquisite a capella renderings of some of the poems, and all introduced by Joseph Hassett, combine to create a moving and unique tribute to the greatest of all Irish poets, W.B.Yeats.

Tickets to the 10,000 Maniacs Benefit Concert at ICTC on Wednesday, March 20 are $50 (General Admission) and $75 (with a pre-show Meet and Greet, VIP Seating, and a CD, W.B. Yeats Poems: Words and Music”). Click here to purchase now.