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February theater choices include mainstream shows and little known works

Mainstream theater is flourishing during this dreary February.

There is a fascinating production of “Fly” at Capital Rep. It’s a revealing story of segregation in the military during World War II, made exciting with great visual effects. It continues through February 20.

Home Made Theater is offering the musical “They’re Playing Our Song” in Saratoga Springs. Albany Civic Theater is presenting “Seminar”, a Theresa Rebeck play about four students who pay an arrogant professor $5,000 for a ten week seminar. The conflicts, romances and jealousies that develop are the heart of this comedy-drama .

And a tour of “Rent” played Proctors in Schenectady Friday and Saturday.

It seems strange that “Rent” playing its 25th anniversary finds itself in the category of mainstream. When it first opened it was considered groundbreaking and its commercial success surprised almost everyone.

“Rent,” like so many other plays that became well-known, was developed at the Off-Broadway theater incubator New York Theatre Lab. They specialize in finding off-beat plays written by promising writers. Indeed, they have a deep commitment to supporting promising writers of the future.

Because much of the work done at NYTL and other Off-Broadway houses is difficult, and they challenge their audiences with unknown titles and bold storytelling, it’s rare that they are produced outside of New York City.

Patrick White, a local actor, director and acting teacher, got tired of submitting those types of plays to local theater companies and having them rejected. For that reason he formed his own company, Harbinger Theater. They produce at Albany Barn, a theater incubator at 56 2nd Avenue in Albany.

Interestingly, this weekend and next Harbinger presents “Hurricane Diane,” a work first performed at the New York Theatre Lab. The premise is that the Greek god Dionysus arrives in New Jersey to develop a group of followers to restore the Earth to its natural state.

She starts with four suburban women who live on a cul-de-sac. She assumes the name Diane, who the playwright Madeleine George describes “as a butch factory,” which is shown as Diane is aggressive in her attempts to seduce the housewives.

She, of course, works as a gardener and has the four women agree to let her transform their backyards.

“Hurricane Diane” plays as a satirical comedy using the women’s empty lives and shallow values to make the point that because mankind has lost its values, it is destroying Earth. Diane tells them “Deep down you know your life is unsustainable.”

The hope that things can change is expressed by one woman who asks, “Why should I sacrifice my comforts, when my comforts are literally all that I have?”

“Hurricane Diane” opens Friday and plays weekends through February 26. All shows are at 7:30 p.m.

Ironically, a play, “Admissions,” that White submitted and was accepted by Circle Theatre at the Sand Lake Center for the Arts for production in January, was cancelled because of COVID. The play about a liberal couple’s resentment at their son being rejected by a prestigious college in favor of a student with an African-America parent is being resurrected by Harbinger Theatre, with the support of Circle Theatre.

It opens at Albany Barn the weekend after “Hurricane Diane” closes. So, if you are interested in theater that is new and thought-provoking, for the next four weeks Albany Barn is for you.

White, in a recent interview, expressed joy that Harbinger is not alone in producing theater outside the mainstream. He expressed admiration for Troy Foundry Theatre, who he says is reinventing local theater vocabulary by the unique staging of non-linear stories expressed through non-traditional staging and movement.

Troy Foundry is also keeping a February presence. This Monday and next, they offer the first two plays of their reading series “Dark Day Mondays.” They take place at Collar Works, 621 River Street, Troy at 7:30 p.m.

The plays being read are new works and were selected from hundreds of submissions addressing the theme of “Visual Arts and Theatre”. Admission is free.

Not all cutting edge theatre is new work. Indeed, it’s difficult to think of a work written in 1944 that still confounds audiences today. “No Exit” written by Jean-Paul Sartre is one of those plays. It is being offered by Confetti Stage at Albany’s Masonic Lodge February 26-27 and March 3-6.

The existentialist play is about three strangers brought to an elegant room by a mysterious valet. Initially, they lie to each other about why they are being confined, but eventually through cryptic dialogue, the truth of their sordid lives is revealed. The three cannot form any type of connection amongst them and instead of companions they become tormentors as they realize they are trapped in hell.

Sartre wrote “No Exit” as his response to the inhumanity he witnessed during World War II. Sadly, the ultimate message in the play states “Hell is other people.”

Seeing the play will have you considering if that philosophy is still applicable to today’s world.

Clearly theatergoers have choices over the next couple of weeks. You can enjoy comfortable, familiar plays by well-known writers – or challenge yourself with work that will make you think and possibly make you feel a little uncomfortable.

Whichever you choose, be grateful for organizations that give us those choices. Proof of vaccination is needed for entry and masks must be worn at all theaters.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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