Blog Less Traveled: A.R. Gurney’s Ancestral Voices opens tonight
blog by Scott Behrend • April 20, 2012 @ 9:41am
Beginning tonight, Road Less Traveled Productions will mount Ancestral Voices, the third in a three-year cycle of plays by Buffalo native Love Letters, The Cocktail Hour, and The Dining Room, is RLTP’s 2012 American Theatre Master.
You may recall that we launched our Gurney cycle in 2010 with the Western New York premiere of A Light Lunch, an offbeat comedy in which three strangers at a posh New York City eatery become absorbed in a debate over the contentious and highly theatrical legacy of former President George W. Bush. The trio—played by Matt Witten, Jessica Wegrzyn and RLTP Resident Actress Lisa Vitrano—were joined at the climax by Dave Hayes as an odd sort of Jon Stewart-esque deus ex machina. We were presently surprised by the degree to which Dave stole the show and A Light Lunch tickled the funnybones of our audience.
In 2011, we continued the theme of Gurney’s seldom seen (yet worthy) political satires by presenting Screen Play, his adaptation of the big screen classic Casablanca to a Buffalo of an alternative present where liberals, progressives and free-thinkers are on the run for Canada in an arch-conservative, totalitarian United States. Dave Hayes returned as Major Strasser—reimagined as a closeted homosexual Republican Senator—and was joined by RLTP Resident Actor Bob Grabowski in the Paul Henreid role. Once again, audience response was extremely enthusiastic.
Ancestral Voices is an interesting change of pace from Screen Play and Light Lunch. Those plays were both very topical and very political, whereas Ancestral Voices is domestic and sort of universal.
This play is set in Buffalo in the early 1940s and draws on Gurney’s own childhood for inspiration. The play focuses on young Eddie, whose idyllic family life has begun to unravel following a shocking announcement from the clan’s patriarch.
Ancestral Voices is very much a memory play, and I think it’s Mr. Gurney’s intention for the audience to watch the characters remember their story, talk about it and try to deal with it, rather than re-enact it.
Although the play is warm, funny and nostalgic (as with so much of Gurney’s work), it’s also very critical of the way in which nostalgia may deceive and distort. There is a powerful vein of melancholy and loss that runs through it. Gurney has always been focused on the importance of family and it is especially strong here. Ancestral Voices is really an ideal grace note to RLTP’s series of offbeat and less commonly produced Gurney efforts.
The production will reunite three actors who helped make A Light Lunch and Screen Play so successful—RLTP ensemble members Bob Grabowski, Lisa Vitrano, and David Hayes. It will also co-star two veteran Buffalo stage performers making their RLTP debuts—Joe Natale and Kathleen Betsko-Yale.
I’m also very excited that Mr. Gurney himself will appear at RLTP’s 2012 Spring Gala on Saturday, May 5. The Gala will begin with a 7:30 p.m. performance of Ancestral Voices at the Road Less Traveled Theater (639 Main St., Buffalo and continue at 9:15 PM with a reception at the Saturn Club (977 Delaware Ave., Buffalo).
The Saturn Club is also our gala sponsor this year—so apropos, I think, since the climatic scene in Ancestral Voices is set in the Great Hall of the Saturn Club!
Mr. Gurney will also meet with a very select group of local playwrights, theater artists,and Gurney fans in an invite-only session. RLTP Literary Director Jon Elston will interview Mr. Gurney at length about his life in Buffalo, his long and successful career as a playwright and (of course) his many memorable works.
Audience members will also have the opportunity to ask Mr. Gurney questions of their own. Each year, we offer local playwrights and other special guests the priceless opportunity to connect directly with our American Theatre Master (Stephen Adly Guirgis, Edward Albee, James Rebhorn and Eric Bogosian have also donated their time in this setting). I have, from my own perspective, learned more about each of these great theater artists just from listening to them speak for a couple of hours than I would from a year of studying and working on their plays. It goes without saying that I am very excited about our afternoon with Mr. Gurney.
Our mission at RLTP is, of course, to develop and produce original works by Western New York writers. We undertook this cycle to honor Buffalo’s most successful native playwright—A.R. Gurney. Ancestral Voices complements that mission nicely by celebrating Buffalo, as well, for its invaluable contribution to the moral and artistic identity of Mr. Gurney.
Ancestral Voices opens Friday, April 20 at the Road Less Traveled Theater and runs through Sunday, May 13. For ticket info, please visit www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org.