A. R. Gurney returns to Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters with the New York premier of his charming new comedy Buffalo Gal. Set in a regional theater where a production of “The Cherry Orchard” is about to be mounted, Gurney bows in homage to the greatness of Chekhov. He draws many amusing parallels to Chekhov’s characters and themes in this latest effort. Television star Susan Sullivan (Falcon Crest and Dharma & Greg) makes a fine presence as the fading Hollywood star at the center of his bittersweet tale, and the direction by Mark Lamos mines the backstage story for all the humor while lamenting the diminishing power of the theater and the changes wrought by the passing of time.
Amanda (Susan Sullivan), a once glamorous Hollywood star now past her prime and approaching the twilight of her career, returns to her Buffalo hometown to play the deluded aristocrat Madame Ranevskaya. Her baggage includes three Emmys, three husbands, two Oscar nominations, alcoholism and an estranged daughter. She recently appeared in an episode of “CSI Miami” as a judge with Alzheimer’s rationalizing her appearance by saying “Everyone does judges when they need money.” Faced with the prospect of playing Granny Sweetpants in a trite new Fox sitcom, she flees in horror to the welcoming arms of the theater. Arriving a day early with her contracts still unsigned and clearly conflicted about the lure of a possible big payday out West, Amanda attempts to throw herself into the task at hand, while avoiding her agent’s urgent calls.
The entire action takes place on stage, where the production’s savvy yet stressed director Jackie (Jennifer Regan), who has a need to prove herself to her lesbian lover, will begin rehearsals the next day. She is aided by her logical stage manager, Roy (James Waterston), and his animated young assistant, Debbie (Carmen M. Hierlihy). Complications arise immediately when Amanda learns a cast member, who was to play her brother, has dropped out. His replacement in the now “color blind staging” is an African/American actor James (Dathan B. Williams), who attended classes with Amanda when the two were just children.
Further challenges crop up when Amanda’s first love, Dan (Mark Blum), shows up proclaiming his undying devotion to her and reminding her of their once passionate times together in hopes of rekindling their romance. The evening shifts focus temporarily, but it is the relationship between Amanda and Jackie, written with a non-judgmental empathy for both characters, that resonates most strongly. The play is slight in comparison to Gurney’s most recent Indian Blood, but the evening nonetheless has its charms.
Mark Lamos has kept the tone light, stressing the laughter, and allowing the supporting players to be rather one noted. As a result Sullivan, unfortunately, has less to play off and her good portrayal that blends Amanda’s neediness with an air of superiority doesn’t go far enough into the darker side, a problem apparent in the evening’s dramatic impact as well.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dans Papers
Buffalo Gal opened at 59E59 Theaters on August 5, 2008 for a limited run that has been extended until September 13, 2008. Tickets are available by calling 212-279-4200, online HYPERLINK "http://www.ticketcentral.com" www.ticketcentral.com or in person at the box office.