THE BASICS: PEOPLE, PLACES, AND THINGS, a play by Duncan MacMillan, directed by Katie Mallinson, runs through May 22, with the final week of shows Wednesday (new) through Saturday at 7:30, also Saturday at 3:30, closing Sunday, May 22 at 2:00, presented by D’Youville’s Kavinoky Theatre, 320 Porter Ave, Buffalo, NY 14201. 716.829.7668 kavinokytheatre.com The added shows include Wednesday, May 18th at 7:30 pm. Thursday will be alcohol-free and will have a talkback with the cast and representatives from Save The Michaels of the World.
Runtime: 2hours 45 minutes including one intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Emma is an actor and seemed to be having the time of her life both on-stage and off. It was all wonderful until it wasn’t. Now she’s in rehab. This is a dramatic tale of addiction and recovery.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Once again the Kavinoky Theatre and actor Aleks Malesj (say “alex malaise”) team up for an intense drama. You may recall her as “The Pilot” in the one-woman show GROUNDED where her character, an F-16 fighter pilot who loved to break the surly bonds of earth, after being grounded and assigned to a windowless drone hangar, slowly descends into madness. She won the “Outstanding Actress” Artie Award for her role in GROUNDED (and also won in that category two years later for her role in SIVE at the ICTC). Yes, she’s that good.
In this current play, her descent happens early in the show, in abbreviated time, aided by drugs and alcohol, landing her in a rehab facility. Her angry scenes are all throughout the play, but her two disembodied “mad scenes” (mad as in Lady Macbeth) are enhanced by special effects that alone make this a must-see.
When a team of some of Buffalo’s finest come together to do ensemble work, it’s special.
Almost everyone in the play takes on multiple roles and the very able cast of Diane DiBernardo, Afrim Gjonbalaj, Gregory Gjurich, Christopher Guilmet, Gabriella McKinley, Ben Michael Moran, Maureen Anne Porter, Michele Roberts, and Dylan Zalikowski become a variety of characters. That’s quite a cast and you may have noticed names that in other productions have taken on starring roles. When a team of some of Buffalo’s finest come together to do ensemble work, it’s special.
L-R Aleks Malejs, Maureen Anne Porter | Photo credit Gene Witkowski
The set by David King is fairly minimal with pieces rolled on and off quickly by actors and stage crew and with projections designed by Nicholas Taboni. The sound by Geoffrey Tocin is appropriately intense at times, to match the action, but is never intrusive.
So, what does the title mean? It’s explained later in the play when Emma says: “They tell you, in rehab they tell you: avoid people who make you want to relapse. Places you associate with using and objects that might be a trigger. People, places and things. That’s basically, you know, everything. As long as you steer clear of people, places and things you’ll be fine.”
Although in one scene Emma has been given a copy of “Alcoholics Anonymous” (referred to by AA members as “The Big Book”) it might be worth noting that the “People, Places, and Things” concept as Emma explains it is outside of AA, although popular in the rehab community. (In one scene, Emma, in a fit, actually rips pages out of the copy of “The Big Book” that she’s been given. So consider the source.)
But it’s true that Emma does not have the tools necessary to engage with the world. At one point she complains: “With a play you get instructions. Stage directions. Dialogue. Someone clothes you. Tells you where to be and when. You get to live the most intense moments of a life over and over again, with all the boring bits left out. “
L-R Aleks Malejs on floor, Maureen Anne Porter | Photo credit Gene Witkowski
And it turns out that Emma is not just addicted to pills and alcohol, she’s also an excitement junkie. At the rehab, when offered meds to help her through detox, she says she doesn’t want the meds, she wants “to feel it.”
And the doctor, wisely, advises her against that, saying: “It’s completely natural to want to have the most vivid experience because that’s what you’re used to, that’s what you feel you deserve and that’s what will make you feel more connected with your recovery. I get that.”
But Emma feels that she needs that excitement, and so she constantly picks fights with the doctor, the rehab staff, and the others in the program. She has a real chip on her shoulder, which makes her very realistic, and a complex, fully realized person who should be familiar to those who know someone with a problem. By the way, if you do know someone who needs help, Thursday night will be followed by a (free) talk-back with members of the cast and representatives from the recovery community. There will also be literature on hand.
Again, because of so many COVID related cancellations, here is the list of remaining shows, taken from the Aleks Malesj’s Facebook page, with the additional dates and showtimes noted as “*new*”:
Wednesday 5/18 @7:30PM *new*
Thursday 5/19 @7:30PM
Friday 5/20 @7:30PM
Saturday 5/21 @3:30PM
Saturday 5/21 @7:30PM
Sunday 5/22 @2PM
As we say in the land of the Four Buffalos: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley (or if you just want to see some fine on-stage acting) I would make a real effort to attend.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!
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