Buffalo Girl

  • Date:
    August 1, 2008
    Review by:
    Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.

    A Review by Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.

    Amanda is a famous Hollywood film and TV actress who has returned home to Buffalo to perform in a short run regional production of Chekhov's 'The Cherry Orchard.' Reminiscing about her girlhood days when she'd sit on the "veranda" with her grandmother, Amanda harbors dreams of returning to her acting roots and escaping the pressures of LA, until, of course, her agent calls about a new sitcom written with her in mind. What to do is the ultimate subject of A. R. Gurney's new play, "Buffalo Gal," and it stars real life Hollywood film and TV actress, Susan Sullivan.

    Having appeared in the film, "My Best Friend's Wedding," and on TV in 'Dharma and Greg' and 'Falcon Crest', Sullivan is tailor-made for this role (or the role is tailor-made for her). As Amanda, she takes for granted that there's always a do-over if she makes a mistake, that scripts can be rewritten on the spot, and that her obvious signs of aging will be filtered out with the right camera lens. But the live stage is different and Amanda isn't completely prepared.

    Her portrayal of an aging, insecure actor gives us, in vivid detail, some real insight into what celebrities go through when they take on roles in which their performances will most likely be compared to those given by legendary stage stars before them: think Kelli O'Hara in "South Pacific" or Tyne Daly in "Gypsy." Amanda's angst becomes center stage for the entire play as she wrestles with unfulfilled dreams and the realities of her career.

    Adding to Amanda's dilemma is Dan, an old sweetheart who is still stuck on her, and he presents Amanda with yet another possibility for her future. But it's hard to feel any real sympathy for Amanda, however, since she's faced with a dilemma that doesn't seem to be a dilemma at all: should she struggle to make ends meet in a boring Buffalo theater while being woo-ed by a flickering old flame, or make millions of dollars in sitcom heaven and residuals while the script is rewritten to her specifications? Hmm.

    Yet the trappings of celebrity seem to pale in comparison to the adulation of live audiences, since TV actors never personally relate to the audiences who watch them on the screen. And there's no one at the stage door after a performance asking for their autographs. But the TV world is glamorous, and there's the money, and the clothes. And this is the point of "Buffalo Gal."

    Gurney traverses the fine line between life and art, and the relationship of theater to society through characters who battle to keep regional theater vibrant despite the pull of the media on celebrities' times and Prada pocketbooks.

    Our sympathies lie, rather, with the ones who are unseen, the ones who devote themselves to the struggle: the director of the fledgling theater company who desperately needs this play to make her a real contender; the stage manager who just loves the language of theater; the enthusiastic intern who interjects historical references from Greek theater as she keeps actors 'on book' and plays gofer. This is the stuff that dreams are still made of, and Gurney zooms in with this play so we see what we usually never see.

    The script, ultimately, much like "[title of show]" and "A Country Girl," is not only about the characters, but about the tremendous behind-the-scenes work of putting together a play, from the casting, to the set design, to the placement of the ads in the local papers. And the concept -- that famous TV actors come back to the stage to connect to live audiences and their roots -- produces the electricity that not only sustains regional theater, but the stars themselves.

    There is love for the theater embedded in 'Buffalo Gal' and it has found a perfect venue in an off-Broadway stage that has attracted a TV star on hiatus.

    Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus