“well-placed wisdom … gentle storytelling” in “Minding Frankie”

Preview by Cherie Messore, buffalotheatreguide.com –

Maeve Binchy is one Ireland’s most beloved modern novelists. One of her early novels, “Circle of Friends”, was adapted for the silver screen (starring Minnie Driver and Chris O’Donnell) in 1995.  One of her last novels, “Minding Frankie,” (published in 2010, four years before her death) was adapted for the stage, and it will make its US premiere at the Irish Classical Theatre when it opens there on November 3.

Binchy’s novels are renowned for their warmth and charm, with a touch of well-placed wisdom woven into classic and gentle storytelling. Her books read like an Aran knit sweater: cozy, comfortable, maybe a little bit scratchy at times, but you always feel better about wrapping yourself in Binchy’s carefully written world.

For director Chris Kelly, he has the enviable task of crafting the work of playwright Shay Linehan with two venerable ICTC actors, Kristen Tripp Kelley and Christian Brandjes.  The play opened in Dublin earlier this year, and is now touring Ireland. As this was the US premiere, he says, “There aren’t many places or other productions to look in on, to see how others have dealt with the piece. Honestly though, by and large, it’s a really freeing position to be in.”

The original novel was 450 pages long: playwright Linehan “honors the spirit of the work,” says Kelly, in this 90 minute version, which allows it to become its own work, and not merely a segment of the longer piece. Kelly likes Linehan’s treatment, stating, “I think fans will be pleased with the adaptation and the great care we take with Binchy’s world and characters.”

The story is poignant: Noel is an alcoholic, and he unexpectedly becomes the “minder” of baby girl Frankie. His quirky family helps him care for the child, yet he still has to convince a disapproving social worker that this unconventional set up is in the baby’s best interest. Kelly cast Christian Brandjes and Kristen Tripp Kelley as Noel and Moira respectively, but they also portray a variety of other characters to illustrate the rest of Frankie’s extended family. Because they are both “earthy, honest, and versatile actors,” says Kelly, they bring their best to the wealth of characters in this story. Look for a production that’s lively, fun, and while it may be sentimental, there’s nothing wrong with that.

And millions of other Binchy fans around the world agree.

“Minding Frankie” is onstage from November 3-26, 2017 and is presented at Irish Classical Theatre. For more information, click here.

Lunch with Vincent O’Neill, Buffalo Irish Times

by Tim Bohen, Buffalo Irish Times
October 2017

Sitting in the back of Founding Fathers Pub, I waited for Vincent O’Neill who had agreed to get together to talk about the Irish Classical Theatre Company’s upcoming season. O’Neill breezed into the pub, sporting a dark blue blazer. He came over to the table and greeted me with a warm smile. He then placed his order for the daily special: a Pepper Jack Jerk Burger. As the waiter left, O’Neill turned to me: “Say that three times quickly. What a great sobriety test.” As I discovered throughout our time together, it is a love of language and the mesmerizing “magic of words” that makes this Irishman tick.

O’Neill, the co-founder and artistic director of the Irish Classical Theatre Company (ICTC), is excited for the upcoming season, which, for the first time, is comprised entirely of comedies (both light and dark). He explained that a season of comedies made great sense given the current political climate in the US, in which people are yelling at each other. With characteristic Irish wit, he pointed out: “an Irish comedy is a tragedy in any other country.” He related Brendan Behan’s view that the secret of Irish writing is that “you soften them up with comedy, and then when they are weak and vulnerable, you punch them in the gut with a bit of tragedy.”

For those who might be worried about taking such a hit, I asked O’Neill which play he would recommend to someone who might be new to theater. Although each play offers something different, “The Night Alive” by Conor McPherson (March 2-25th, 2018) is “not to be missed.” It is a touching comedy about humanity and redemption for some down-and-out Dubliners. The season opens with Noel Coward’s “Design for Living” (September 15-October 8). In November, fans of best-selling Irish author, Maeve Binchy, will thoroughly enjoy Shay Linehan’s play “Minding Frankie,” which is based on Binchy’s novel by the same title (November 3-26). The winter months offer us W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Constant Wife,” about the vicissitudes of married life in the 1920s (January 19-February 11, 2018), and “The “Awful Truth” by Arthur Richman, which was the inspiration for a movie by the same title starring Cary Grant (April 20-May 13, 2018). Finally, the season closes out with Oscar Wilde’s crowd-pleaser, “Lady Windermere’s Fan” (June 1-24, 2018). If you are looking to laugh, this is the year to buy a season membership or try out the ICTC for the first time. You will not be disappointed.

After hearing about the upcoming season, we turned to talk about O’Neill’s life in Ireland before landing in Buffalo. He was raised in Sandycove, a Dublin suburb. His father, a dedicated civil servant, was the youngest of thirteen children born to a poor farmer from West Cork (Castletownbere). His mother (nee Casey) was raised in the inner city of Dublin. As a child Vincent was shy, which is why his parents sent him to drama school at the age of eight. But he started his career, after university at Trinity College in Dublin, teaching Spanish and French at a school run by the Poor Servants of the Mother of God. He quips, “One of the richest orders in Ireland.” He eventually came back to theater where he met French actor and mime Marcel Marceau, an encounter that was life-changing. He went on to act at the prestigious Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Once O’Neill had honed his craft, he was ready to strike out on his own.

O’Neill made his first visit to Buffalo in 1985 when he and his older brother, Chris, performed Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” at the old Airways Hotel. He would eventually make Buffalo his home in December 1989. One year later he founded the Irish Classical Theatre with his late brother Chris, Josephine Hogan, and the late James Warde. Their first address was the Calumet building on Chippewa Street, which is where I enjoyed my first ICTC play, “Sea Marks,” starring O’Neill and Hogan. The year was 1993 and I was hooked. Ten years later, January 1999, ICTC moved to its current location, the Andrews Theatre on Main Street. In 27 years, ICTC has entertained tens of thousands of theatergoers, contributing significantly to the arts and culture in Buffalo.

O’Neill is grateful to the Irish-American community in Buffalo, which has warmly embraced the ICTC from the beginning. It was Larry Quinn who was instrumental in securing the location of their Main Street home, and Peter Andrews, a descendant of the Conners family, donated generously for their current theater, bearing their family name. Others such as Joe Crowley and Frank McGuire have been very generous supporters of the theater, and many members of their board of trustees are Irish Americans. O’Neill was also honored to be awarded the Buffalo Irish Center’s “Irishman of the Year” several years ago.

O’Neill feels good about the future of the ICTC. Each season presents him with the happy problem of having too many plays to choose from. “No country in the world [Ireland], per capita, has generated such a wealth of literature, especially dramatic literature.” The impressive Irish and Irish-American canon includes playwrights such as Sean O’Casey, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge, Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Eugene O’Neill and Brian Friel. Add to that contemporary playwrights such as Conor McPherson, Martin McDonagh, and Frank McGuiness, as well as emerging talents such as Bryan Delaney. “Scratch an Irishman and you’ll find a writer, you know.”

In fact, O’Neill is one of those writers. Aside from his many duties as artistic director of the ICTC, O’Neill is writing a play with his close friend and fellow countryman, Lawrence Shine, in which they are trying to capture the unique style of language of the residents of a particular neighborhood in Dublin. He is also writing a book on acting in which he hopes to share lessons he learned over the years. He loves teaching acting classes at the University of Buffalo. All of this while working on a performance of Yeats’ poems with Mary Ramsey and Joe Hassett.

As our time together was drawing to a close, I asked O’Neill what he’d be doing if he was not an actor.  Without hesitation he responds, “A writer.” At this point we had to check our parking meters. As we were leaving the bar walking towards our cars, he started talking about Yeats, his favorite poet, followed closely by Patrick Kavanagh. When I told him I’d heard of Kavanagh but not read his work, O’Neill’s Irish eyes lit up, “Oh Tim, you are in for a real adventure!” O’Neill’s love of language and belief in the magic of words is palpable. Partake in the magic and make this your first of many seasons at the Irish Classical Theatre.




Vincent O’Neill to appear at the BIC Sunday, Oct. 29, 3PM

The Buffalo Irish Center welcomes ICTC Artistic Director Vincent O’Neill Sunday, October 29 at 3PM as part of the BIC Speaker Series.  Vincent will read from the works of Frank McCourt including Angela’s Ashes, Teacher and ‘Tis.

His presentation will take place at the Buffalo Irish Center, 245 Abbott Road, Buffalo, in the Claddagh Room.  It will be 45 minutes in length and will be followed by a relaxed discussion period accompanied by “afternoon tea.”

Vincent is a much-acclaimed Theatre professional:  actor, director, producer and writer.  He is also a popular and capable educator:  a Teacher in the Department of Theatre & Dance at the University at Buffalo.

This event is free and open to the public.

Strong Cast makes for superb “Design for Living” – Michael Rabice, BWW

Never afraid of controversy, Noel Coward‘s DESIGN FOR LIVING must have seemed bawdy and shocking in its day. Let’s face it, a menage a trois always elicits controversy. But somehow that master of witty repartee has fashioned a comedy that gets away with bad behavior by wrapping it in his signature complexities of the English language. The result is the highly polished production playing at the Irish Classical Theatre.
This 2017-28 season is being billed as their season of comedies and it is off to a smashing start. Coward’s play revolves around Otto, Leo and Gilda, best friends and secretly best lovers. The three act play allows for inappropriate relations with Gilda and each of the men, often behind the other’s back, but not for long. The three are completely self involved beings who live for their own immediate pleasure, without regard for their actions. As only Coward can do, he pens these fascinatingly wicked characters who would be disliked by society, but somehow enamors the audience with their bad behavior.

Director Katie Mallinson has assembled a brilliant trio of actors that shine individually, but create genuine sparks when in pairs or all together. Irish Classical’s audience favorite Kate LoConti plays Gilda, the frustrated socialite who lives for the “now” moment and doesn’t often contemplate more than a minute in the future. Gilda is prone to lying to cover up her affairs, but ultimately is never happy with any of them. Ms LoConti and Mallinson have studied their scripts, where Gilda is often referred to as various animals– Gilda hops, jumps on furniture, sits on chair by squatting on it, and is a general whirlwind of activity. LoConti is coy and mischievous, reveling in each of her affairs, like a smitten teenager unable to make an “adult” decision.
Adriano Gatto is Otto, an aspiring artist. Mr. Gatto turns in a nuaunced comical performance full of English bluster that is utterly charming. His comfort on stage allows him to shed any pretenses, as he copes with the hand which he has been dealt. His infectious laugh and charismatic presence exuded confidence throughout the evening. Ben Michael Moran completes the trio as Leo, the witty playwright. Mr. Moran appears to the manor-born, full of pomposity and self assurance. His perfect British accent is matched by his elegant air, striking poses and strutting about. When Gatto and Moran finally confront each other regarding their affairs with Gilda, the drama and comedy is priceless. Over endless bottles of liquor the men first feud over their predicament and ultimately end in a drunken “love-ya-man” moment, where they both realize that as a duo they may have the upper hand in claiming Gilda.
Eric Michael Rawski is Ernest, the slightly older art dealer who has befriended all of the three, but sets his own stakes on Gilda. Rawksi embodies the pretentious fop, rich and more level headed than the others. The play’s conclusion offers the trio as one unit now, meaning that Gilda’s new marriage to Ernest must be abandoned. Here Coward seems to belabor Ernest’s exasperation, often reiterating the same language, making the 3 hour drama seem about 10 minutes longer that comfort allows. Happily, these four seasoned actors show such commitment to the text that the comedy never waivers.

Ms. Mallinson’s direction is quick paced and doesn’t allow for too much schtick, so that when it does occur it packs more of a punch. She effortlessly moves the cast along making use of all areas of the stage–not an easy feat for theatre in the round. Costume designer Ann Emo has fashioned lovely period pieces for the ladies that aren’t overdone and handsome men’s furnishings.

Coward’s concept of a modern design for living suggests that there are many ways to choose to live, and a bohemian lifestyle without preconceived notions may be an option for some. His dialogue here is often biting while being thought provoking. In lesser hands, DESIGN FOR LIVING may come off a stale and dated, but this witty production shows what great acting and directing can do to dust off an old standard.

by Michael Rabice, broadwayworld.com, September 29, 2017

“Stylish … elegantly subversive,” says Anthony Chase of “Design for Living”


In the opening scene of Noël Coward’s comic masterpiece, Private Lives, when Amanda’s new husband assures her that she is entirely “normal,” she objects, “I think very few people are completely normal really, deep down in their private lives.”

This idea could serve as the theme of Coward’s entire career as a playwright. In the world of his plays, desire is a quality that cannot be contained by traditional monogamy. It is uncontrollable, and for this reason, nobody is completely normal.

Design for Living, currently enjoying a stylish production directed by Katie Mallinson at the Irish Classical Theatre, is a happy reminder of Coward’s genius for playful social critique. In this play, Gilda, played by Kate LoConti, cannot decide between two men who ardently love her. At the same time, these men, Otto, played by Adriano Gatto and Leo, played by Ben Michael Moran, clearly love each other. When jealousy intervenes, their happy ménage a trois seems to be unsustainable. That is until the three manage to devise a happy “design for living.”

The play itself was not much loved during the Coward’s lifetime. Written specifically for Coward to perform alongside his close friends, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Coward would later lament:

[Design for Living] has been liked and disliked, hated and admired, but never, I think, sufficiently loved by any but its three leading actors. This, perhaps was only to be expected, as its central theme, from the point of view of the average, must appear to be definitely anti-social. People were certainly interested and entertained and occasionally even moved by it, but it seemed to many of them “unpleasant.”

Coward was, clearly, quite attuned to his play’s social subversiveness. Despite the fact that many themes and events are identical to events in the perennially popular Private Lives, the conclusion of Design for Living has proven to be especially problematic in this regard. Gilda will (spoiler alert) opt to ditch her husband, Ernest, and keep both lovers. In putting their socially stigmatized desires above their social responsibilities, Gilda and Otto and Leo seem to have used and abused poor Ernest rather willfully. Unless you hit the right tone, the play just seems mean.

Less problematic today, but worth noting is the fact that the world of the 1930s was not oblivious to the play’s homosexual undertones, and not entirely tolerant either. In his 1933 appraisal, George Jean Nathan, the foremost American drama critic of the first half of the 20th century is unequivocal, and aims for the jugular.

As to Design for Living … I can see in it little more than a pansy paraphrase of [George Bernard Shaw’s] Candida, theatrically sensationalized with “daring,” gay allusions to hermaphrodites, “gipsy queens,” men dressed as women, etc., and with various due references to “predatory feminine carcasses” and to women as bitches. The big scene is simply a rehash of the one played by the two drunken women in the same author’s Fallen Angels and here given, relevantly, into the hands of two men.

Director Katie Mallinson graciously agreed to attend a performance of her production of Design for Living with me. I was intrigued to hear the observations of a director with her background in dramaturgy, about a play I know well. I have been very impressed with her previous work, notably the marvelous Road Less Traveled production of Dinner With Friends. I had also once seen an excellent production of Design for Living, like this one, done in the round. That was the widely admired and successful 1985 Circle in the Square production, starring Jill Clayburgh, Raul Julia, and Frank Langella. I was interested to see how Mallinson approached the challenge of the circular Andrews Theatre.

At the first intermission, I asked about the physicality of the staging, particularly Kate LoConti’s superior embodiment of Gilda.

Mallinson seemed pleased and said they had worked on this particularly in rehearsal.

LoConti’s performance is notable for its light agility and for the unflinching confidence of her speech. This is established immediately, when, without saying anything, she collects herself to answer the door of her Paris apartment, and subsequently, throws herself full-throttle into a diversionary conversation with Ernest, played by Eric Rawski. This deceptively dense dialogue sets up the thematic landscape of the entire play.

Everything about LoConti’s performance is satisfying. She exudes the requisite charisma, as well as the necessary girlish impudence. While it is never quite fair to compare one actor to another, I will admit that in flashes, she reminded me of young Leslie Caron. Rawski, while miscast again, and too young for paternal old Ernest, gives a game and amiable performance.

Mallinson was decidedly closed-mouthed and protective of certain aspects of the rehearsal process. I was especially intrigued, because the production was handed to her, already cast and with the creative team already in place, after another director was obliged to bow out. We discussed working in the circular stage of the Andrews Theatre, which presents certain challenges, and the director was interested by my recollections of the Circle in the Square production.

Right from the top, I was curious about her choice to make it entirely clear who is in Gilda’s bedroom at the start of the play. I have seen this detail played as a surprise elsewhere. Mallinson’s is a valid choice, but I missed the spirit of mischief and unpredictability, not to mention the dramatic momentum of making the actor’s entrance a revelation. I also noted that there were large sections of the first act in which actors seemed to be wading through pages of Coward’s language. These sections became very challenging for the audience at a three-hour play.

Alfred Lunt who originally played Otto, and Lynn Fontanne, the original Gilda, were, arguably, the most successful acting couple in the history of the theater. They worked almost exclusively together and rehearsed constantly, developing an acting style whereby they would overlap each other’s sentences with astounding precision. This practice must have proved invaluable for a play like Design for Living.

The Irish Classical Theatre production is most successful in the more rapid-fire exchanges. These land very successfully. For that reason, the third act, with its larger population of actors, and shorter exchanges, is particularly strong.

In the same vein, some of the smallest characters resonate quite vividly under Mallinson’s direction. Jennifer Fitzery is sublime as Gilda’s morally inflexible housekeeper Miss Hodge, endowing the woman with the perfect blend of flint and bluster. Even her walk is funny.

Late in the play, Lisa Vitrano makes a distinct and memorable person of Manhattan socialite Grace Torrence, a woman with billion bucks in the bank, but a bohemian sense of adventure. In the same scene, Conor Graham and Anna Krempholtz are acerbically funny as incompatible Henry and Helen Carver.

Mallinson conceded that the rehearsal period of four weeks is stressful for its brevity. Such economy of time is also necessary in a town like Buffalo, where audiences almost always number fewer than 200, and a theater cannot recoup enough to pay for longer rehearsal periods, or for preview performances. The burden is upon actors to learn words, to analyze scripts, and to make choices outside of rehearsal.

I admired the work of Adriano Gatto as Otto, and Ben Michael Moran as Leo, but would have been happier with clearer distinction between the two characters. In their favor, they are both dashing young men, and successfully projected the rascally fun of the piece.

The celebrated drunk scene between Leo and Otto comes at the end of the second act. Thinking that Gilda has run out on them forever, the men get drunk together on “Armadildo” sherry and try to comfort each other; they touch and hold each other; they thank God for each other and convince themselves that they are better off without her. Finally, however, they move past this suggestively homoerotic episode and lament that they are going to be horribly lonely without her

I would like to report that these gents nailed the scene, but I flat out could not see what was going on. It was played on a sofa with a decidedly high and opaque back. I was seated behind it. At the intermission, I quipped to Mallinson, “A love seat would have been funnier.” To her credit, she laughed. She did not comment on this design decision, and I did not press.

This was, to be fair, an anomaly, in a production that generally takes care to keep the picture revolving and moving, and which does not favor one side of the audience above another. It is also notable that three hours fly by very quickly and I felt fresh and energized as the play continued.

Beyond the hilarity of Otto and Leo’s surface absurdity, scenes like Otto and Leo’s drunk scene (or like the fights in Private Lives, or like the murder attempts in Blithe Spirit) lie at the heart of Noel Coward’s comedic project.   Whereas his contemporaries thought he was focused on the depraved few, in todays world we are much more comfortable with the idea of universal depravity. Find a spouse who has not felt jealous, or taken advantage of, or ignored, or who has not, deep down in his or her private thoughts, contemplated the murder of a spouse, coveted his neighbor’s wife, or yearned for the company of an ex-husband.

In her production, Mallinson successfully walks this delicate balance. I was particularly impressed by her admirable third act. Gatto and Moran shine especially brightly at this point. In an unscripted gesture, Gilda gently and compassionately pulls the boys back while Ernest is railing against their depravity. This is followed by the delightful, unbridled laughter that famously concludes this most elegantly subversive play.

Back in 1933, condemnation from George Jean Nathan might have seemed reasonable and persuasive. Today, there is something thrilling about finding this titan of 20th century criticism in a moment of critical hysteria. “Pansy paraphrase” is an epithet out of control. Nathan seals his own position in posterity, when he predicts historical oblivion for Noël Coward, who, on the contrary, remains one of the most produced playwrights in the world more than 80 years after the opening of Design for Living.

“Mr. Coward occupies the successful place in our theatre today that the late Clyde Fitch occupied twenty and thirty years ago,” wrote Nathan. “Where will the plays of Mr. Coward be when as many years have passed? As in the case of my critical reflections on Fitch in his fashionable heyday, I leave the answer to the calendar.”

Because the perfect conventional matrimonial norm is, itself, a fiction, Coward’s plays endure, and even achieve a surprising universality. If we could speak across time, we might remind poor Nathan, that many a worthless degenerate has been revivified since 1933, for deep down in our private lives, few of us are truly normal. Beyond the hilarity of Otto and Leo’s surface absurdity, scenes like Otto and Leo’s drunk scene (or like the fights in Private Lives, or like the murder attempts in Blithe Spirit) lie at the heart of Noel Coward’s comedic project. Each of us needs to forge a design for living. Katie Mallinson’s production at the Irish Classical Theatre certainly and very pleasurably delivers this comical and important message.

by Anthony Chase, ARTVOICE, September 26, 2017

“Design for Living” delights from start to finish – Colin Dabkowski, The Buffalo News

“The Irish Classical Theatre Company’s consummate production of the play ,,,, directed by Katie Mallinson and starring an incandescent Kate LoConti as the gravitational center of a small galaxy of lovers, is an enchantment from start to finish.

The story concerns a love triangle among Gilda (LoConti) and her close friends/lovers Otto (Adriano Gatto) and Leo (Ben Michael Moran). In scene after glowing scene, they flirt and argue with one another, cycling in and out of love, affection and lust as if playing some sort of card game. Both Gatto and Moran are magnetic in their roles … They ricochet against LoConti’s charming characterization of Gilda in a series of rat-a-tat comic exchanges.

The production is a delight.”

Click here to read full review.

by Colin Dabkowski, The Buffalo News

3-1/2 Stars (out of 4)

City of Buffalo dubs 600 Block of Main Street “The Chris O’Neill Way”

September 6, 2016 – The Irish Classical Theatre Company today announced that, by order of Buffalo Common Council President Darius C. Pridgen, the 600 block of Main Street between Tupper and Chippewa will be named The Chris O’Neill Way to honor ICTC Co-Founder and Artist of great distinction, the late Chris O’Neill.

The Trailblazing Sign will be unveiled on Tuesday, September 12 at 5:30PM Plaza of Stars, Main and Tupper Streets, Buffalo

A native of Dublin, Ireland, O’Neill was best known for his fourteen-year role as Michael in the television and radio series, The Riordans, on Ireland’s national television station. He was an actor with the Abbey Theatre as well as a board member of the Gate Theatre and an owner of the Oscar Theatre, all in Dublin. As a theatrical agent, he managed the careers of such luminaries as Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne.

O’Neill was already widely regarded as one of the world’s finest interpreters of the works of Samuel Beckett when he arrived in Buffalo in 1985, where he and a small troupe of traveling actors staged a performance of Waiting for Godot in the basement of the Airways Motel in Cheektowaga. The performance was a staggering success, and the love affair between O’Neill and this city was born.

O’Neill returned to Buffalo, acting in the city’s theatres, notably at the Kavinoky. He soon persuaded his younger brother Vincent, an actor with Ireland’s prestigious Abbey Theatre, to join him, and in 1990, they co-founded, along with Josephine Hogan and the late Dr. James Warde, the Irish Classical Theatre Company,

His fame grew, drawing him to New York and Chicago, where he worked in theatre and film. Construction of the Irish Classical Theatre Company’s new home, The Andrews Theatre, was well underway when O’Neill succumbed to a brief illness in West Palm Beach, Florida where he had been performing. He was 50 years old. 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of his passing.

“O’Neill was a consummate storyteller,” said Terry Doran of the Buffalo News, memorializing him in 1997. “He was a man on such great charm and generosity that it sometimes concealed the fact that he possessed penetrating intelligence and a vast memory store of Irish literature and plays. … His contributions to the city’s cultural life are large and incalculable.”

Vincent O’Neill, Artistic Director of the Irish Classical Theatre Company, recently reflected on Chris O’Neill’s legacy saying “If not for my brother, Chris O’Neill, I would never have followed my passion to become an actor. Chris truly was the catalyst that made ICTC a reality,” he continued. “We are truly gratified that he is being honored as a great artist, as a visionary and as an extraordinary human being by the installation of a Trailblazing Sign naming Main Street between Chippewa and Tupper as the Chris O’Neill Way,” O’Neill concluded.

A reception will immediately follow the Street Naming Ceremony at the Chris O’Neill Lounge inside the Irish Classical Theatre Company, 625 Main Street, Buffalo. The public is cordially invited to attend.

“light and fun … a lovely summer evening’s entertainment” – buffalotheatreguide.com

by Gail Golden, buffalotheatreguide.com

Last night, I went to the Irish Classical Theatre Company and saw their production of “Hay Fever” by Noel Coward. This British drawing room comedy from the 1920’s isn’t performed as often as Coward classics “Blithe Spirits”, “Private Lives”, and “Present Laughter,” and so being able to see “Hay Fever” is a real treat.

The play takes place at a country house where Judith Bliss, a famous actress of a certain age, and her family and friends have assembled for a weekend. The Bliss clan is eccentric, Bohemian, and given to theatrics and this has a detrimental effect on the psyche of their unwitting guests.

Direction by Gordon McCall is spritely and smooth, and the pace is good. It could benefit by being a little wilder and more inspired – especially at the end of Act 3 – but this is certainly a pleasant production.

Josephine Hogan is the central character, Judith Bliss, and Ms. Hogan is very much in command of the proceedings, shining especially brightly as the emotional crux for the hijinks of the second act.

As her over-the-top daughter, Marisa Caruso, is appropriately both vivacious and arch, and she delights vocally with a range that can run from sultry to squeaky within the same sentence!

Ironically, the straight man played by David Lundy, gets the biggest laughs of the evening, and Jacob Albarella also scores as a hapless stage struck hunk.

Providing able support are David Oliver as the pompous novelist, Jordan Levin as his immature son, Hilary Walker as a notorious vamp, Melissa Levin as a ditzy flapper, and Andrea Gollhardt as the exasperated maid.

Production values are high with lighting by Brian Cavanagh, sound by Tom Makar, and colorful scenery topped by a set of spiffy lamps by Paul Bostaph.  The consistently excellent period costumes by Lisa Harty include gorgeous beaded dresses and wonderful touches like two tone oxfords, red and black gardening gloves, and magnificent patent leather boots.

“Hay Fever” at the Irish Classical Theatre Company is light and fun and a lovely summer evening’s entertainment.

Running Time: 2 Hours 10 Minutes with one 10 Minute Intermission.


The Winslow Boy is “an elucidating family drama” – broadwayworld

by Michael Rabice, broadwayworld.com
Apr. 24, 2017

A family’s desire for wealth is at odds with its desire for honor in Terence Rattigan’s intriguing THE WINSLOW BOY now on stage at the Irish Classical Theatre.

Set in Kensington, England in the early 1900’s, Rattigan has written of the Upper Middle Class Winslow family and their 3 children. Youngest Ronnie (Collan Zimmerman) has returned abruptly from Military Academy having been accused of stealing a 5 shilling Postal Note and discharged from the school. His sister Catherine is the 20-something suffragette and his elder brother Dickie is floundering away at University

The patriarch of the family, Arthur, is brilliantly played by stage veteran Robert Rutland, remembered for much of his great work at Studio Arena Theatre. Rutland’s intense portrayal of the controlling father/husband anchors the drama, never allowing anyone to doubt who runs the family. His fixation with wealth is cemented as he interviews Catherine’s intended fiance, John Watherstone, played by Ben Michael Moran. More interested in the young man’s finances than his love for his daughter, Arthur lays out his own financial status while probing into the Watherstone’s fortune. Rutland’s brusque manner and endlessly fidgety fingers created an impatient character, who becomes a man possessed once he convinces himself that his son has been wrongly accused. His quest is to clear his son’s name while ensuring the family’s character remains untarnished.

Mr. Zimmerman performance as the titular character, under the guidance of Director Brian Cavanagh, often comes across as an aloof, immature teen not fully grasping the gravity of his predicament. Rattigan writes him as an unworldly 14 year old who desires nothing more than to enjoy his teenage years, more interested in attending a movie than attending his own court case. Zimmerman’s soft spoken voice and timidness at first seemed problematic, but later these attributes worked in his favor as the naive boy accused of a petty act.

Pamela Rose Mangus shines as the mother Grace. Her nuanced performance was utterly convincing as she often deferred to her husband’s wishes, but later in a face to face stand off with him, elucidates the toll her husband’s desire to right Ronnie’s name has taken on the fabric of her family, including the small family fortune. Ms. Mangus is a treat to watch on stage, fully embodying a woman raised in Victorian society and lovingly overprotective of her youngest child.

Rattigan has created a multi layered character in Catherine, brought to life by ICTC favorite Kate LoConti. Her no nonsense personality often mirrors that of her father, and LoConti revels in Catherine’s desire for equal rights coupled with her aging need to marry. It is clear that her impending marriage only superficially appears to be a true romance, further enhanced by Mr. Moran’s straight forward, dead pan line readings of his purported love for her. This only strengthens the fact that the two would only have a loveless relationship.

Kevin Craig is thoroughly enjoying himself on stage as Dickie, living the carefree life too much for his father’s liking. His levity is palpable and in great contrast to his father’s consternation. Local favorite Lisa Ludwig makes the most of the slightly wacky but loving housekeeper, Violet. Todd Benzin as Desmond, a family lawyer friend who yearns for Catherine, gives a poignant performance as the man past his prime who would unconditionally love Catherine, if she only would consider him.

The climax of Act I introduces us to the pivotal Sir Robert Morton, the high profile barrister engaged by the family to represent Ronnie and have his case heard in the High Court. Matt Witten is brilliant as the seasoned lawyer, building great intensity in his questioning of Ronnie that leaves the family, as well as the audience stunned and captivated by his brilliant mind. More perplexing was his initial encounter with Catherine, where innuendos of a prior relationship never became fully fleshed out in the script. Nonetheless, Witten and LoConti share great chemistry, which may later be realized after the play’s conclusion.

Evocative sound design by Tom Makar amplified the simple setting, as well as Dixon Reynolds lovely period specific costumes.

The second Act allows Rattigan to deepen the family relations and expose the toll that the two year ordeal of “Winslow vs. Rex” has taken. With the family’s name being strewn across the daily papers and reporters clamoring at their doorstep, Catherine’s prospect of marriage becomes weakened and Arthur must decide how much more his family and their coffers can endure. Here Rattigan is at his best showing the dichotomy of Arthur’s quest for financial security for his daughter while seemingly squandering away his own fortune, which ultimately will lessen her dowry.

Cavanagh paces the evening well in this play that at first glance seems much ado about nothing, but later turns into an elucidating family drama.

A “flawless performance” of “The Winslow Boy” – nytheatreguide.com

by Mary Best
Posted April 23, 2017

Opening night of a play can be a rocky one. Missteps, line stumbles and low energy often plague a cast kicking off a multi-week run. However, the cast of “The Winslow Boy” at Irish Classical Theatre Company delivered a flawless performance Friday night, showcasing some of the best Buffalo theater has to offer.

Brian Cavanagh directs this Terence Rattigan play, which lets us peek behind the curtain at the English Winslow family in the years leading up to World War I – ironclad patriarch Arthur, mother Grace, passionate feminist Catherine and brothers Dickie and Ronnie. Despite a stellar track record of being the favorite son, Ronnie gets expelled from Osborne Naval College after being accused of stealing a five-shilling postal order. The story unfolds into many layers in the months that follow the incident, detailing each Winslow’s personal sacrifices and conflicts that result from pursing a trial to prove Ronnie’s innocence and, as they say, “Let right be done.”

As an ensemble, these 10 actors drive a high-energy performance, which isn’t always easy in a presumed courtroom drama that never leaves a sitting room. Despite a timeline that spans nearly two years, the audience never feels left out or like something is missing.

Kate LoConti portrays the intelligent, no-nonsense Catherine. She’s strong in all of her choices, and lets us see the detailed thoughts of every conflict Catherine faces, including having to choose between her fiancé, John Watherstone (a suave Ben Michael Moran) and supporting the progressive ideals motivating a trial for her brother. Her unwavering commitment to the women’s rights and suffragette movement is especially relevant to our currently politically charged society, making her an even more worthy heroine to root for.

The best scene of the entire play comes at the end of act one, when the reputable attorney Sir Robert Morton arrives to question Ronnie about taking his case. From the moment Matt Witten enters the theater as this shrewd character, the tension in the room triples. He is immediately captivating and powerful in a divine performance.

Robert Rutland portrays the strong-willed patriarch of the Winslow family – Arthur. His comedic delivery is excellent, and as his character’s health declines throughout the story, he never lets go of an ounce of strength. It’s rare for a character to evoke so much emotion without wearing their heart on their sleeve, but Rutland does this terrifically.
I’d be remiss not to call out Todd Benzin as the endearing Desmond Curry. As a man who’s always been in love with Catherine, he’s careful to bring a shred of sadness and disappointment that’s all too real for those of us possessing unrequited love. His scenes are especially nice to watch.

Collan Zimmerman, Lisa Ludwig, Pamela Rose Mangus, Kevin Craig and Gianna Palermo round out this A-team of players, making sure not a single moment in this funny and polarizing story is lost.

Dyan Burlingame’s set is rich with detail and perfectly suits Irish Classical’s intimate 360-degree space. Costumes by Dixon Reynolds were spot-on, adding a layer of personality to each character and leaving the audience anxious to see more.

The production features a fine-tuned company of actors giving high caliber performances, making “The Winslow Boy” a truly delightful night out at the theater.