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Artistic Director Emeritus Vincent O’Neill Joins Mary Ramsey and Joseph Hassett for 17th Annual Hassett Reading: Yeats Now

The Canisius College Contemporary Writers Series presents the 17th Annual Hassett Reading: Yeats Now.  The evening of poetry, song and conversation will feature Joseph Hassett, Vincent O’NeillMary Ramsey and Daniel Mulhall, Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States. The event will take place Tuesday, April 27 at 7:00 p.m.  Members of the Canisius community will have the option to join limited in-person seating in the Montante Culture Center. Additional attendees are invited to join us virtually. Click here to register for the live webcast.

Buffalo native Joseph Hassett is a graduate of Harvard Law School and holds a PhD in Anglo-Irish Literature from University College Dublin. He is pro bono senior counsel for Hogan Lovells, located in Washington, D.C. and outside counsel to the Embassy of Ireland, also in Washington, D.C.  Hassett is the author of W.B. Yeats and the MusesThe Ulysses Trials: Beauty and Truth Meet the Law and Yeats Now: Echoing into Life . He traces his love of literature to inspirational Canisius professors such as Charles Brady, Dick Thompson, Les Warren and Mel Schroeder.

Vincent O’Neill is the artistic director emeritus of Buffalo’s celebrated Irish Classical Theatre Company.  Born in Dublin, he trained there as an actor and later toured from London to Leningrad and Moscow as member of the Abbey Theatre Company London. In 1989, O’Neill relocated to Western New York and worked as both an actor and director in the region’s major theaters and won numerous awards, including multiple Artie Awards. O’Neill’s critically acclaimed one-man show, Joyicity, toured throughout Europe and the United States, with two runs off-Broadway, as well in Toronto, Sydney and Tokyo.

Mary Ramsey was the lead singer-songwriter for the 10,000 Maniacs, an American alternative rock band known best for its Top 40 hit song “More than This.” Born in Washington, D.C. she earned her bachelor’s degree in music performance at SUNY Fredonia and became a fulltime member of the Erie Philharmonic at age 17. With John Lombardo, Ramsey formed the Buffalo folk duo John & Mary. Ramsey has worked with Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre and has been a guest artist on many recordings with such artists as The Goo Goo Dolls, Ani DiFranco and Billy Bragg.

Daniel Mulhall is Ireland’s 18th ambassador to the United States.  Born and raised in Waterford, Ireland, he completed his undergraduate and post-graduate studies at University College Cork, where he specialized in modern Irish history. Mulhall is the author of A New Day Dawning: A Portrait of Ireland in 1900 and co-editor of The Shaping of Modern Ireland: A Centenary Assessment. He has spoken at many festivals, including the Oxford Literary Festival, the Newbury Festival, the Liverpool Literary Festival and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Mulhall is also a regular speaker at the University of Liverpool Institute of Irish Studies and is an Honorary Fellow at the Institute.

Founded with a grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation and continued through the Peter Canisius Distinguished Teaching Professorship Program, the Contemporary Writers Series is generously supported today by the Hassett, Scoma and Lowery Endowments and with the cooperation of The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, Just Buffalo Literary Center, the Center for Urban Education and Talking Leaves Books.

For more information, contact Mick Cochrane, PhD, professor of English and coordinator of the Contemporary Writers Series, at (716)888-2662 or cochrane@canisius.edu.

One of 27 Jesuit universities in the nation, Canisius is the premier private university in Western New York. Canisius prepares leaders – intelligent, caring, faithful individuals – able to pursue and promote excellence in their professions, their communities and their service to humanity.

Originally published on Canisius.edu.


“Magical Virtual Performance … Heartfelt and Genuine …” – Michael Rabice, BroadwayWorld

Unfurling the raw emotions associated with sickness, death and grief are not new topics in literature. But author Joan Didion has suffered immense loss and tragedy in losing her husband and daughter, and uses this as the narrative of her book turned one woman play THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING. In Didion’s own words her emotions may not seem raw, but they are truly rich with a deep sense of introspection and self awareness. And during the time of Covid, where live theatre is still on hold, Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre is presenting it’s magical second virtual performance with Didion’s gripping play.

Our writer, wife and mother shares the heartbreaking story of dealing with the sudden death of her husband John at the same time that her only child Quintana is battling septic shock on a respirator in a New York City ICU. This woman’s complex mind mixes her innate brilliance and scholarly thinking with the introspective thoughts on how to grieve. Didion is a wordsmith who chooses her words carefully, and who examines the words of others with that same inquisitive nature. She must portray the part of a practical woman making funeral plans and also be a steward of her daughter’s medical plights. Didion explores these issues through flashbacks of her younger days at Berkeley, raising a child in California and her own marriage struggles. The five stages of grief described by Kubler-Ross can’t hold a candle to Didion’s own journey. Her self proclaimed “vortex” is a mental state that she avoids as much as possible, be it triggered by streets she drives down or which articles of her husband’s clothing she can dispose of.

Victoria Perez has been tapped to bring Didion’s story to life. The demanding role not only runs the gamut of emotions but can be a virtual tongue twister for any actress, given the author’s penchant for highly descriptive verbosity, that can border on pomposity. Nevertheless, Ms. Perez, the Artistic Director of Buffalo’s Raices Theatre Company, is up to the challenge. One is instantly sucked into the story by Perez’s intensity and command of the stage, which also includes her command of her relationship with the camera. As raconteur, Perez has the ability to ensure the story being told is coming to life as if it is the first time this woman has expressed these words to anyone. One grasps the difficulties in her marriage by the tone in her voice, as she describes the everyday task of making a cocktail or meal for her husband. There is a familiarity that is palpable in her marriage. And in her husband’s brief time alive in this story, it is clear that he and his wife shared a deep love for their young, newly wed daughter who is is battling for her life.

Perez does fine work as she shifts from the regimented mother who educates herself on all things medical in order to be her daughter and husband’s advocate. No medical term will get in the way of her understanding of their medical conditions. But all of the medical knowledge she acquires still renders her ultimately helpless in her quest to save her beloved daughter. And when her magical thinking overcomes her pragmatic mind, she convinces the audience that while she may seem to be crazy, her magical thoughts can be rationalized in her own head. And ultimately, all she truly wants is to be the mother that can always make everything better for her child.

Director Kyle LoConti has the task of directing a single woman, with a minimum of movements, on a black stage. I imagine she and Ms Perez dug into this venture on a cerebral level where the text supercedes all. When to pause, where to glance, how can one’s eyes tell the story. These minute details never go unnoticed. With some mild rough camera transitions aside, this one woman play felt appropriately intimate on the screen. Perez captivates the viewer with a restrained performance that is heartfelt and genuine. By the time the tears finally come to her eyes at the death of her daughter, her maternal reactions are those of a lifetime of love for her child.


“Remarkably Serene … A Contemplative Event” – Anthony Chase, The Buffalo News

With “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Joan Didion seeks to give us a lesson in survival.

The play is a monologue based on Didion’s 2005 book of the same name about coping with the abrupt death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne. The piece goes beyond that memoir to explore the subsequent loss of the couple’s daughter at the age of 39, which occurred shortly before the book was published.

The Irish Classical Theatre Company video presentation is directed by Kyle LoConti and features Victoria Perez as Didion. The production follows the company’s polished video rendering of Gardner McKay’s “Sea Marks,” during a year of pandemic thinking.

As the play begins, Didion tells us about the night when, while she was preparing dinner, her husband suddenly died at the table. We might think the events she is describing won’t happen to us, but she assures us they will. She wants us to be better prepared than she was. At the same time, she suggests that such preparation is impossible.

“You might think you’ll see it straight, but you won’t,” she cautions. With the wisdom and weariness of Cassandra, she tells us the truth but knows we will not understand or believe her. In Didion’s world, grief turns out to be a place none of us knows until we reach it. Indeed, when the moment of death arrived, Didion thought her husband was playing a joke, pretending to be dead. He wasn’t. Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.

I saw the original production of the play on Broadway in 2007, where Didion was portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave. Tall and regal, Redgrave does not resemble Didion, a diminutive native Californian. Irish Classical Theatre has gone in yet another direction by casting Victoria Perez, who gives an evocative yet plainspoken and understated performance, bringing a motherly quality to the portrayal. These dissimilar casting choices serve to emphasize the “everywoman” theme of the play.

For a play about death and grief, the experience of “The Year of Magical Thinking” is remarkably serene. Perez relates the story with quiet, measured phrasing, pausing with the thoughtfulness of a writer, as if to select her next words with precision.

Putting the experience in a writer’s vocabulary, Didion tells us that we will view loss as a kind of first draft that can be edited and corrected later. But death takes her outside of a world she can control through editing.

She confesses that she wanted to attend her husband’s autopsy so that when they found the cause of death, she could fix it. This is the magical thinking of the title. If she can just follow the right sequence of actions, her husband will come back. If she makes the slightest mistake, however, like giving away his shoes, he won’t.

When the story shifts from the death of the husband to the death of her child, a new wrinkle enters the experience of grief, guilt. “This wasn’t supposed to happen to her!” A mother protects her child; she doesn’t outlive her.

When Didion’s familiar storytelling vocabulary fails to provide the right incantation, she masters the complexities of medical vocabulary. When medical vocabulary fails her, she tries legal language. She seeks to find the “reversible error,” that error in procedure that will oblige the universe to have her husband’s improper verdict thrown out.

The monologue translates to the small screen beautifully. During the Broadway run, word was out that if you wanted to feel the full power of Redgrave’s nuanced performance, you had to sit close to the stage. Perez benefits from the closeness of the camera in this production, staged by LoConti and filmed at the Andrews Theatre in collaboration with Buffalo-based Pan-American Film Division. Even her face at rest projects meaning and emotion.

Perez is handsomely lit by Jayson Clark and costumed by Jessica Wegrzyn. The set, also by Wegrzyn, is a black expanse with painting and hangings that loom, expressively, in the background, and at one disorienting point of Didion’s narrative, in front of the action. Tom Makar’s sound design is especially compelling and provides momentum and interest to this one-person show.

“The Year of Magical Thinking” is a contemplative event. Don’t’ expect tear jerking. Do expect flashes of recognition and introspection.

Read the full review in The Buffalo News here.


4 Stars (out of 4) – “Wildly satisfying … Bravo” – Ben Siegel, The Buffalo News

“a wildly satisfying story of self-destruction”

In case you haven’t been shocked into gleeful submission in a while, or … cradled the urge to run into a burning building just for some peace and quiet, consider a ticket to “The Onion Game” … It just may be the salve you’ve been looking for in these ridiculous times.

(This is) the American premiere of Bryan Delaney’s dark comedy, a cozy enough label for a genre that’s often hard to pin down … subversive, twisted, riotous, far-fetched and radically free … The feeling … (of) jumping out of a play’s window mid-flight; the pure joy in the danger of being weightless.

It’s the most alive I have felt in a theater in quite some time.

Delaney’s plays “The Cobbler” and “The Seedbed” … are in effect completed with “The Onion Game” … a trilogy of distant cousins, unlinked but sprouted from the same root urges: to tell stories, to challenge, to devour.

Here, we meet a family on the brink of self-destruction … It might be easy to assume, as with many dark comedies, that their love, while uncommon by societal standards, is just as heartfelt and earnest … But that would be too kind; this nuclear family is poised to detonate.

This company shines vivid light on these wacko personalities. The fearless Stan Klimecko is Onion … uncompassionate … disaffected … disheveled onion farmer; … writing the next Great Irish Novel … Kelly Meg Brennan revels in the juicy role of Pearl, Onion’s wife …

Louie Visone is delicious in the role of Ogie, their post-pubescent son who cavorts around the household in briefs and open-aired robes … And Ava Schara is a breath of fresh air (for a moment) as young Milly, a poet by heart, the most earnest one around …

Ray Boucher and David Lundy each deliver distinct wacky roles of cosmic-orbiting proportions. Lundy is especially off his rocker, to our benefit. Nobody is who they seem, right up until the end …

Director Greg Natale illuminates Delaney’s massive vision … From David King’s detailed set to Tom Makar’s punctuating (and moving) sound design, to a fantastically placed video component … by Brian Milbrand … this is an orchestral production of a rock ‘n’ roll opera.

A wild, satisfying, tooth-rotting ride that you’re not likely to regret. Bravo.
By Ben Siegel, Published March 7, 2020|Updated 4 hours ago

Read full Buffalo News review here.


“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.

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.

https://www.buffalovibe.com/articles/arts-culture/a-childs-christmas-in-wales-irish-classical-theatre


“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.

https://buffalotheatreguide.com/2019/11/24/a-childs-christmas-in-wales-third-time-is-a-charm-for-ictc/


“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/


Irish Classical Theatre: A dream come true for two Dublin-born brothers

In 1985, two Dublin-born brothers, Vincent and Chris O’Neill, internationally acclaimed actors and former members of Ireland’s celebrated Abbey Theatre, found themselves in Buffalo, New York performing Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in the dining room of a local hotel. They were enthusiastically embraced by Western New York audiences and critics and, together with fellow Dubliners Josephine Hogan and the late Dr. James Warde, formed the Irish Classical Theatre Company. Performing on various rented stages until a permanent home was established at the Calumet Arts Café, ICTC became the fastest growing theatre in the region and led to the building of its new home, The Andrews Theatre, which opened its doors in January of 1999 in Buffalo’s Theatre District.

History

In 1985, two Dublin-born brothers, Vincent and Chris O’Neill, internationally acclaimed actors and former members of Ireland’s celebrated Abbey Theatre, found themselves in Buffalo, performing Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in the dining room of a local hotel. They were enthusiastically embraced by Western New York audiences and critics, and together with fellow Dubliners Josephine Hogan and the late Dr. James Warde, formed the Irish Classical Theatre Company. Performing on various rented stages until a permanent home was established at the Calumet Arts Café, ICTC became the fastest growing theatre in the region and led to the building of its new home, The Andrews Theatre, which opened its doors in January of 1999. Now entering its 30th Anniversary Season, ICTC continues to celebrate its strong Irish roots through its choice of repertoire, and by bringing special guest directors, playwrights and actors to the Niagara Frontier to work and to be honored.

Special thanks to Erie County for the support
Irish Classical Theatre logo
Made possible with funds by the City of Buffalo