With FAUCI AND KRAMER, get a “First Look” at an excellent play in the new Canterbury Woods performance space

THE BASICS:  FAUCI AND KRAMER, a new play by Buffalo’s own Drew Fornarola, directed by Kate Powers, produced by Bob Rusch and Emily Glick for First Look Buffalo, starring Steve Jakiel and Louis Colaiacovo.  Feb 23 – Mar 17 Fri – Sat 8:00, Sun 2:00 at the new (very comfortable) Canterbury Woods Performing Arts Center, 705 Renaissance Dr, Williamsville NY 14221. 716-771-6358

Runtime: About 90 minutes without intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  During the AIDS crisis several decades back, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the NIH (National Institutes of Health) was routinely criticized by gay activist and playwright Larry Kramer who often used provocative attention-getting tactics to urge the government to do more and to do it faster.  While it seemed outwardly that the two men might be bitter adversaries, they realized that they were both equally passionate about finding cures and that each had an important role.  In this play, the ghost of Larry Kramer (who died in 2020) appears before Anthony Fauci to continue the discussion of how Fauci is doing, this time during the COVID pandemic.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: During the early years of COVID, almost nightly we heard from Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH, whose measured words were reassuring when panic could have been the norm.  Yet, on White House briefings night after night, we saw “America’s Doctor” undercut and his message subverted by then President Donald Trump.  Why didn’t the good doctor stand up and cry “Bullshit”?  Because that was not his style.

But it was Larry Kramer’s style.  At one point Kramer thought that Fauci should chain himself to the White House fence to embarrass then-President George H.W. Bush into doing more about AIDS. Fauci explained that yes, he would have his 15 minutes of attention but would then lose all access to the White House.  Kramer still felt that Fauci should do it.

In 1988 Kramer wrote an open letter to the San Francisco Examiner titled “I Call You Murderers – An open letter to an incompetent idiot, Dr. Anthony Fauci.”

Recently, Anthony Fauci wrote an opinion piece/guest essay published in the N.Y. Times titled “Anthony Fauci on Larry Kramer and Loving Difficult People.”  So you can see the difference in tone and style between the two men.

I’m not sure, but some inspiration for this play might have come from that Times piece in which Fauci wrote: As we got to know each other better over the years, it became clear to me that despite his confrontational behavior, Larry had a pure, simple and unselfish goal — there were no hidden agendas with Larry. His passion was pure and his commitment unflinching in his attempts to jar people into realization of the seriousness of the AIDS epidemic. I quickly realized that despite his sometimes provocative behavior, he was as noble as the most respected scientist and public servant. And so we became brothers in arms.

And that, in a nutshell, is the spirit of FAUCI AND KRAMER.  Fauci and Kramer were just like brothers beating on each other, seemingly at odds, but in the end “la familia.”  And, just like dinner with a large Italian family, there are also a lot of laughs.

L-R Steve Jakiel and Louis Colaiacovo | Photos by Emily Glick

The play is very well presented with Steve Jakiel as Dr. Fauci bringing the “grown up” gravitas that we’ve seen him display in some of his favorite roles including Herr Schultz in CABARET or Arthur Przybyszewski in SUPERIOR DONUTS.  And Lou Colaiacovo is believable as the more agile, casual, prankster Larry Kramer.  In another review I once described Colaiacovo as having “cinematically subtle body language and facial expressions that spoke volumes” and that’s still the case.

The acting and solid direction (by Kate Powers who comes to Buffalo with national credits) are wonderfully enhanced by projections and video, including a montage of all the various half-baked COVID cures that former President Donald Trump suggested or hinted at during his White House briefings.  If and when this show is picked up nationally, I hope that the video package also can be rented out, since it was itself a labor of love that should be seen by more people.

I think that this is an important play on many levels.  It’s a good “remember when” and it’s a good message of how mutual respect can be acknowledged.  And it gives us a framework to understand the next pandemic, its hour come round at last, whenever that is.

*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!

The post With FAUCI AND KRAMER, get a “First Look” at an excellent play in the new Canterbury Woods performance space appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

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