"BUFFALO GAL" by A.R. Gurney. Directed by Mark Lamos.
Produced by Primary Stages at 59 E. 59 (St.) Theatres, NYC.
July 22 - Sept. 13, 2008.
Tickets: $60.00; $20 for patrons 35 and under; $45 for groups of 10 or more. Call 212-279-4200, (212) 840-9705, x 204 for group sales, or www.ticketcentral.com, or purchase tickets at the box office.
Amanda (Susan Sullivan) has returned home to Buffalo – broke, divorced, her acting career spiralling down, and her only daughter in rehabilitation. She is dependent on her name and good looks for a second chance. Jackie (Jennifer Regan), the ambitious, young director of a struggling small theatre, knows that Amanda can bring in audiences and the press. She hopes this production of Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" is a stepping stone.
"Buffalo Gal," now at 59 E. 59 Theatres, is one of A. R. Gurney's most engaging plays. It pits dreams against dreams, the pull of nostalgia against the impulse to move forward, the love of art against the temptation of commercialism – and it does all this with charm, grace, and humor. The performances under the direction of Mark Lamos bring us the fullness of real people coming together for a common goal. All the characters seem to have back stories. The charismatic Susan Sullivan is a two-time Emmy and Golden Globe nominee – much like Amanda, the character she plays.
It's easy to empathize with Amanda. It's been so long since she was on stage that she is not sure she can memorize her lines, find the character, and tap the energy needed for the weekly performance of a long play. But she's game, and the members of the theatre company become her team. As she rehearses, paraphrasing mostly to the dismay of the pedantic intern Carmen M. Herlihy), she discovers herself in the character of Chekhov's Mme. Ranevskaya, the aristocratic mother who returns to her family home and leaves again. Amanda begins to reminisce about her own grandmother, the house she grew up in, and her first acting classes.
And then her co-star appears. He is not the name actor the director promised, and everyone is on edge. Amanda demands that he come to the theatre so she can meet him; the director calls it an audition, but complies. He is the first of the surprises that greet the actress – and each welcomes her back to Buffalo. We learn more and more about the kind of woman she is and we are touched by her. We climb aboard her team. We wish her and the director, who must field so many problems, success.
The end of the play is predictable, but not the emotional heft. The woman who is having financial problems and difficulty remembering her lines is offered feature actress status in a sit-com. She promises to return to the play, but the director makes some calls for a replacement. It's Jackie who steals the last minutes of the play. Her dreams of moving "The Cherry Orchard" to New York seem unlikely without a star and she worked so hard. But she loves her small theatre in Buffalo and trudges on.
"Buffalo Gal" is Gurney's love letter to his home town and to Chekhov. The Russian playwright is alive and well in Amanda, a believable 21st century cousin to Mme. Ranevskaya and her world of long-distance choices and colorful friends.