Exploring the Weird, Wild & Wonderful Theater Up North
This fall has been invigorating and adventurous, especially in the theater scene, offering plenty of welcome discoveries. I’ve explored a couple of theater companies up North for the first time, revisited some old favorites, and I’m excited to share my experiences. It’s humbling to realize that after attending theater seriously for 25 years, there are still local groups just an hour away that I’ve yet to explore. Recently, I attended a networking meeting for theaters, primarily in the North, hosted at Home Made Theater’s current home in Wilton Mall. It was an opportunity to meet a bunch of people for the first time, solidifying my resolve to explore more local theaters. As Tennessee Williams said in “Camino Real,” “Make voyages. Attempt them. There is nothing else.”
While it wasn’t my first visit to The Strand Theatre in Hudson Falls—where I previously enjoyed Steve Maggio’s one-man show “Every Brilliant Thing”—it was my inaugural attendance of a Hudson River Shakespeare Company production. Titled “Murder Me Deadly,” it wasn’t Shakespeare, but rather a full-length original play written and directed by Andrew Daly. This whodunit, in the film noir style, engaged a cast of 14. Unlike a parody seeking cheap laughs by mocking noir conventions, this was a serious, hard-boiled, often humorous, and consistently engaging mystery, culminating in a truly surprising twist. The cast, including at least 8 men, was led by the suitably wry and sardonic Evan Burgess in the role of Nick Stiletto.
Discovering such a large cast of highly competent actors in an intricately plotted original play, directed by the playwright himself and performed to a capacity audience for just one weekend, was a revelation. My visit to The Strand solidified my eagerness to explore more productions by this company.
During another weekend excursion, I indulged in a double-header: first at the Schuylerville Community Theatre for John Patrick’s “A Bad Year for Tomatoes,” and then at Fort Salem Theatre for a Sunday night performance of “Whispering Bones.”
SCT performs in the Saratoga Town Hall, utilizing the courtroom space, even repurposing the judge’s bench for costume changes. The performance I attended was a benefit for a scholarship fund in memory of Richard Joyce, a longtime SCT member. Upon entering the Town Hall, I was greeted by a Sheriff behind the admissions table—later revealed as Robert Biales, also portraying the law in the play. This unexpected encounter added an intriguing element to the afternoon’s entertainment.
The play itself is intriguingly odd, centered around a Hollywood movie star seeking refuge from fame in a small New England town. When the locals refuse to leave her alone, she invents and portrays a homicidal sister, inadvertently becoming even more appealing. The packed house witnessed exceptional talent, particularly from Bridget Dunigan as the star and Keaton Poore as her agent and aspiring boyfriend. Both displayed commanding stage presence, wit, and impeccable comic timing, enriching the material. Additionally, it was a pleasure to see Dianne O’Neill, a regular presence in the Capital Region Theater scene, embodying the eccentrically dressed Willa Mae Wilcox. Dianne also contributed as a meticulous costumer. The entire production, under Toni Anderson-Sommo’s direction, was an exuberant lift to the spirits.
Who doesn’t relish a theater schedule that breaks away from the ordinary? An evening performance on a Sunday allowed me to squeeze more theater into my weekend, such as “Whispering Bones,” a roaming collection of seven spooky monologues performed in seven different spaces from Bennington to Proctors this Halloween season. Conceived by actor/producer Kelvin Keragan, who hosted the eerie festivities as Dr. Betterov-Underhill, these ghost stories were consistently intriguing. Tanya Gorlow’s rendition of “The Tell Tale Heart” was particularly gripping, performed in a sold-out cabaret space just off the lobby.
My second visit to Fort Salem this month was to witness the excellent rendition of “The Rocky Horror Show,” where I attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to provide call-back responses during a dress rehearsal. The show, especially Ryan Fuchs’s portrayal of the character with a buff physique, was in excellent shape. Interestingly, 75% of the cast traveled more than an hour to perform. The production showcased top-notch talent from the Capital Region, including James Alexander’s booming Riff Raff and Kelly Sienkiewicz’s captivating opening number, “Science Fiction.” Even Executive and Artistic Director Kyle West returned to the Fort Salem stage for the first time since transforming the theater.
Each of these productions was distinct from the usual offerings in Albany, Schenectady, and Troy. While “Rocky Horror” had been previously produced at SLOC, Fort Salem approached it with a gleeful campiness, aggressively promoting it with midnight and Halloween performances, providing prop bags for the audience to enhance their participation. Such marketing not only appealed to audiences but also attracted actors to perform on their stage, evident in the superb cast of “Rocky Horror.”
In September, I participated in a Community Theatre Collaborative networking meeting at Home Made Theater in Wilton Mall. At this gathering, local companies shared stories about their auditions, productions, and audiences. Interestingly, some of these companies don’t identify themselves as part of the Capital Region theater scene. For me, Capital Region Theater is more of a state of mind. An extra half-hour drive means little when it leads to experiencing something new in a theater—an experience that outweighs a couple of gallons of gas.