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Risk in theatre can be rewarding

The cast of "Assassins" on stage, pointing guns to the air
Playhouse Stage Company
The cast of Playhouse Stage Company's "Assassins"

The theatrical experience should always be entertaining. The problem is in defining entertainment.

For many a tragedy is as rewarding as is a comedy; and a musical can vary from Brecht to Bacharach.

These thoughts come to mind after attending two area plays last weekend. They were totally different in scope and appeal, yet they had a lot in common.

Park Stagehouse just concluded a three weekend run of the Stephen Sondheim musical “Assassins.” The Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate N.Y. opened the comedy-drama “ Knock Me a Kiss” in the studio theater of Capital Rep in Albany. “Knock Me a Kiss” plays its final performance at 4 pm today.

“Assassins” is about the nine people who either assassinated or attempted to assassinate an American President.

It sounds violent and possibly irresponsible. It’s not. It’s a thoughtful look at a group of people who are united in their belief that they could change the course of history through a violent act.

Playhouse Stage Company produced a near-perfect production that blended marvelous singing with off-beat comedy that shed light and pity on a group of deranged individuals. It’s important to understand the minds of such people.

It was a bold choice for the company. The musical, though considered by many as among the best Sondheim has created, has a history of not being big box office.

When combined with their summer show “Head Over Heels”, (produced as Park Playhouse) a gender bending comic romp, it solidifies the company as one willing to take on challenging material.

Equally important, it shows a trust that area audiences will support well-performed work that is a bit out of the mainstream.

The other show I attended was “Knock Me A Kiss” presented by Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate N.Y.

It tells a fictional story about the true marriage of Yolande Du Bois, the daughter of W. E. B. Du Bois, the great 20th century Black man who was a prominent leader in the fight for African-American equality.

It is a subtle play about the lives of respected Black individuals living in 1928. Though the story focuses on wealthy and accomplished people of color, it also makes strong statements on all social prejudices.

Indeed, there is a description of an actual brutal lynching of Sam Hose that will linger in your mind long after you leave the theater.

“Knock Me a Kiss” appears to be about the family of an important and wealthy Black family. We learn that even with wealth and achievement the African-American experience is not the same as life for a person with white skin.

Both “Assassins” and “Knock Me a Kiss” provided unique experiences that showed a sense of mature artistry.

But just as important, both organizations are as concerned with the future as they are with hit shows in the present.

An important component of Playhouse Stage is their Playhouse Stage Academy-Conservatory. It is their school of performing arts at which they give professional training to young actors.

For some, it’s simply training to gain entrance or a scholarship to college. For others, it’s a step towards a career in professional theater.

Black Theatre Troupe is less structured in its training. However, their mission is to train actors of color to play on stages throughout the area.

The takeaway from my weekend theater experiences is to never judge a play by its first impression.

To me, it’s a wonderful experience when you can laugh at human nature, see historic figures in a new light and have your consciousness raised as well.

Playhouse Stage and Black Theatre Troupe are not the only companies doing plays that are risky at the box office. It’s imperative that such material be supported.

Otherwise, we are doomed with a future of only shallow entertainment.

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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