RETURN TO SEYMOUR ST at O’Connell & Co. packs a lot of talent into a show with local roots

THE BASICS:  RETURN TO SEYMOUR ST, a play by Tom Dudzick, a world premiere, directed by Steve Vaughan, presented by O’Connell & Company, starring Daniel Lendzian, Jenn Stafford, and Max Goldhirsch, runs through February 5, Fridays – Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 3:00, with an extra matinee Saturday, January 28 also at 3:00, on the O’Connell & Co new stage, 4110 Bailey Avenue, Amherst, NY 14226  716-848-0800

Runtime:  2 hours, one intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  In this world premiere performance of a new play by Buffalo’s own Tom “Over the Tavern” Dudzick, Peter Witkowski, an author, now divorced, visits his empty, run-down boyhood house on Seymour Street in Buffalo’s Polish East Side and, within that nostalgic atmosphere, attempts to rekindle a romance with his childhood sweetheart, the girl next door, Irene.  She’s now a West Coast TV producer and the show-runner for a “Fixer Upper” pilot episode that wants to rehab Peter’s old house.  But Irene’s also a widow with a 14-year-old son, Gary, a telekinetic psychic who can communicate with the beyond.  Just as things are looking up for Peter and Irene, Gary starts saying things like, “We’re not alone here.”  The grownups’ first instinct is to get out of that house fast until they are trapped by a Buffalo snowstorm.

Tom Dudzick | Photos courtesy Oconnell and Company

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:  As one audience member told playwright Tom Dudzick at the talkback on opening night: “Those three actors gave your play a fine performance.”  And indeed they did.  Led by veteran director Steve Vaughan (who often directs for Shakespeare in the Park and Jewish Repertory Theatre) we saw Daniel Lendzian (enjoy his “Soundstage WNY” podcasts here) as all grown-up Peter, a successful author, but still living in fear of his long-deceased father.  Turns out his childhood sweetheart is developing an HGTV-type show and they need the worst house on the block.  They found it (Daniel Toner – Scenic Designer).  Irene is played by the always-in-demand four-time Artie Award-winning Jenn Stafford who has split-second timing and a wonderful ability to be bold in one minute and vulnerable in the next.  She has said that her greatest role is being a real-life mom but some of her greatest roles on stage have been playing mothers of sons who are, shall we say, “different” whether they have been disfigured by industrial chemicals in TOXIC AVENGER, possessed by an evil hand puppet in HAND TO GOD, or here with the ability to talk to dead people in RETURN TO SEYMOUR ST.  

Recently seen at Jewish Rep in THE CHOSEN is Max Goldhirsch as Gary.  Mature beyond his age, he is only a sophomore at Amherst High School but holds his own on stage with both Lendzian and Stafford.

This is a Tom Dudzick play, through and through, returning to the old “Hydraulic” neighborhood before it became trendy as “Larkinville.”  We’ve been there before with the OVER THE TAVERN trilogy as well as MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISION.  You’d expect and you’ll get many gags about growing up Catholic with Dudzick’s well-honed ability to set up the joke and then land the punch line.  And, as with all those plays mentioned, there’s always something that’s not talked about, a family or personal secret that drives the character’s behaviors and ultimately drives the play.  That secret must come out before the curtain falls and it always does.  

My only complaint has nothing to do with the production at all, just with watching a play about a storm just four weeks after our Christmas “once every 100 years” blizzard.  As the sound effects (Nick Quinn, Sound Designer, Alley Griffin Stage Manager) of the wind moaning got louder I thought “too soon… too soon!”  This would be a great play to watch next August.  But, all kidding aside, it’s a great play to watch right now, and it’s up at the new home for O’Connell & Company on Bailey Avenue (plenty of off-street parking).

*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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