Your Parents Will Understand If You Get a B Because You Spent So Much Time In The Theater

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It was a very rewarding semester of exceptional college theater in the Capital Region and beyond. Terrific energy focused on challenging material with professional technical resources made every trip to a campus theater this past fall a playgoing treasured memory. The level of skill participating in college programs in the area is very high. It’s great to see so many talented young people continuing to fill the stages of the area’s colleges and universities.

Kicking off with UAlbany Theatre‘s World Premiere of “Six Scenes in a Theatre” by Kathryn Walat featuring favorites Max Conaway and Colin Gioia. It offered the students an evening of two-hand scenes which alternated between 1969 and 2019 and two different productions of “Our Town.” Taking place in the Arena Stage with no set and minimal props, the actors created the entire story relying on each other.

“The Harvest” photos by Max Grossman

Next up was a terrific new play by Samuel D. Hunter making its Capital Region premiere, “The Harvest” at Skidmore College. Skidmore offers the community a great service, consistently offering plays that we would not see anywhere else in the Capital Region. This one transformed the black box theater into a basement of a small evangelical church as a group of young missionaries prepare for a Mideast trip amid their misgivings and doubts. A young man in the group who has lost his father recently is making a one-way trip. This was superbly directed by John Michael DiResta as the entire cast was very present and in tune with everyone else. The ripples of feeling which entered the room and buffeted the young cast were shared in the small space by the audience sitting mere feet away.

“The Harvest” photos by Max Grossman

“Fun Home” making its Capital Region community production debut directed by Angela Ledtke at St. Rose‘s great little barn theater which had reconfigured seats. It turned out to be a perfect jewel box of a space for this delicately powerful musical and we were thrilled to get to see it done so well by these students in an intimate setting. It was great to see Music Director Christian Gunn again working with some powerful voices, not the least of which was Ms. Ledtke’s daughter Olivia as middle Allison.

The next night we took a beautiful drive across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge down to Bard to see Maria Irene Fornes and Al Carmine’s wild musical “Promenade” directed by the prodigiously inventive Morgan Green. It premiered in 1965 at Judson Church just south of Washington Park and has many of the concerns of its time running in its veins. It has been described as a Candide tale of two prisoners as told by Beckett working on Lewis Carroll’s stage. It was bright, fun, always diverting and impossible to make coherent sense of. Delightful.

November brought Union College‘s production of “Macbeth.” Entering the crepuscular gloom of the black box you passed by a sentry at the door holding a lantern. The space had been reconfigured to an alley seating with dirt on the floor and a wedge platform at one end. As the play began the witches enter from hell, or rather from underneath the stage. They literally arose out of the dirt on stage. The fleet 90 minute evening was packed with sensational details and best of all, a very well-spoken cast.

Williams College had three different programs of Purple Valley Plays as they called them completely written and directed by students. I caught the first two and was very impressed with the staging and technical support for these one-acts. The first evening perhaps had an inadvertent theme of “coming out” which was heartening to see that theaters are still serving this purpose.

UAlbany had a second Main Stage show with Lynn Nottage’s “Intimate Apparel” making another appearance in the Capital Region directed by Kim Stauffer with an exceptionally strong cast. What great work she did with these young actors!

“The Pajama Game”

Siena College presented the 1954 musical, “The Pajama Game” directed by Sharon Paluch with a very winning Connor Rock and Nora Collins starring. Dr. Tim Reno was the Music Director and fulfilled all your nostalgic dreams handling the Adler & Ross score. A huge set filled Beaudoin Theatre creating a great proscenium for this old-fashioned night of love in the workaday world.

“The Pajama Game”

We made our first trip to SUNY New Paltz to catch their “Henry V” and were very entertained by this clashing, militaristic tale told on an impressive series of moving scaffolding designed by department chair Ken Goldstein. Directed by John Patrick Hayden who also did the slo-mo fight choreography the piece had great energy and inclusive casting starting with Grace Petrillo playing Henry V.

Finally, we were gifted with the jaw dropping production of “The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other” by this year’s Nobel Prize winner Peter Handke, directed by Phil Soltanoff. There are signs at the entrance warning of intense sensory stimulation of sound and vision. The playwright has described what he was trying to do as sitting in a public square and watching what passes through the square with your attention turning it into “theater.” The students walk, run, roll, jump and crawl in myriad different combinations and scenarios. The lights and sound get in on the act and there is a panel dance towards the end which endlessly moves and reconfigures with animation playing off it, teasing your eyes in a hundred different ways. There is no comparison for the greatest effect which comes raining down from the flies of the JKB Theatre. It needs to be seen. Luckily, it’s coming back after Thanksgiving running the weekend of 12/5-12/8. Tickets: theater.skidmore.edu

A veritable feast for those interested in the theater which is another facet of the diamond which is Capital Region theater and usually the productions are even cheaper than the low community theater prices. The Spring promises many great nights with the Capital Region premiere of “The Wolves” at Theatre Institute at Sage, “Romeo & Juliet” at Siena and “She Kills Monsters” at New Paltz. It takes some searching to see what the schools are doing but the rewards are immeasurable.

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