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Theater Talk: SMART PEOPLE at Ujima addresses racism in a smart way

SMART PEOPLE cast L-R Ben Caldwell, Bryan Brown, Maria Ta, Cecilia Monica-Lyn source Facebook .jpg
RAFAEL C.MENCIA
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SMART PEOPLE cast L-R Ben Caldwell, Bryan Brown, Maria Ta, Cecilia Monica-Lyn source Facebook .jpg

SMART PEOPLE is a play by Lydia R. Diamond, directed by Phil Knoerzer, about four Harvard community members dealing with personal, romantic, professional, and racial issues. Set in Cambridge, Massachusetts (think Harvard) over the years 2007 - 2009 we meet two African Americans - a surgeon and an actress – and an Asian American psychologist, and a white neuro-psychiatrist, as each pursues professional success and romance. While both larger and smaller racial situations in America affect them we see how even “smart people” who want to do better can stumble.

Brian, (played by Ben Caldwell) the neuroscientist who is white, is studying the brain’s responses to race and the possibility that racism might be genetic. Now that's a divisive topic. Ginny (played by Maria Ta) is a psychiatrist who is Asian-American, and she's studying how stress affects low-income Asian-American women. Jackson (played by Bryan Brown) is a young African American doctor in a major hospital has opened a nieghborhood clinic for the poor. And Valerie (played by Cecelia Monica-Lyn), who is also African American, auditions for roles as she makes ends meet by working as a maid.

The playwright, Lydia R. Diamond, said in an interview: "...it is important that the play feel like an invitation to all of us to own the conversation. We can laugh and not feel uncomfortable because we know that we are all equally uncomfortable (and because it is funny, I can’t help it); it is why we go to the theatre — to laugh, and squirm, and be challenged and affirmed.”

It is a little on the long side (2-1/2 hours) but it never drags. The play runs through December 19, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 4:00 presented by Ujima Company Inc. in the neew(er) Lorna C. Hill Theatre in School 77, 429 Plymouth Avenue, Buffalo, 14213 (716-322-5178) ujimacommunity.org 

CLOSINGS:

ALL IS CALM, an acapella musical by Peter Rothstein, directed and staged by Susan Drozd, about a special Christmas Eve during World War One, presented by MusicalFare, runs through December 12 on stage at 4380 Main St. on the Daemen College Campus. Wednesday - Thursday 7pm, Friday 7:30, Saturday 3:30 and 7:30, Sunday 2pm. (716-839-8540) musicalfare.com

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE based on the Frank Capra movie, Friday Dec 10 at 7:00 pm, Saturday December 11 at 2:00 and 7:00 at the Springville Center for the Arts, 37 North Buffalo Street, Springville, NY. (716-592-9038) springvillearts.org

SLICES OF LIFE, An evening of 4 short plays: THE LONELY GODFATHER by Andrew Calderon; RYAN’S LEGACY by Amber Dudley; ONCE UPON A SONG by Madisyn Ross; and LET’S EAT THE QUEEN by Keller Vogelsang, presented by Unique Theatre Company (December 2 - 11) Thursday-Friday 7:30, Saturday 12/4 7:00, Saturday 12/11 5:00 at Compass Performing Arts Center, 545 Elmwood Avenue (the old "TheatreLoft"), (716-243-8889) uniquetheatrecompany.com. "Please join us in our 7th year of producing plays that provide an arena where actors of all abilities give theatre a try."

CONTINUING:

A CHRISTMAS CAROL, play with caroling, based on the short story by Charles Dickens, 39th Annual Production, adapted and directed by Neal Radice, December 3-23, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 and 5:00 at The Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain up Alley (just north of Shea's), Buffalo, NY 14202

(716-852-2600) alleyway.com

MIRACLE IN LEVITTOWN, play by Michael Fanelli, presented by Subversive Theatre at The New Phoenix Theatre, (December 3 - 19) Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3:00. (716-608-3001) subversivetheatre.org Note: This is NOT a New Phoenix production and the start times are at 7:30 pm or 3:00 Sundays at 95 Johnson Park, Buffalo, NY. Described as "an off-the-wall, tongue-in-cheek, mind-bending misadventure that takes audiences to a spoofy part two of "Miracle on 34th Street" where the sweet little girl from the classic Christmas Tale discovers the ugly truth about racial discrimination in the new housing development that her family has just moved into and embarks on a surreal eye-opening odyssey through past, present, and future."

MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISION, play by Tom Dudzik, about Christmas in South Buffalo (December 3 - 19) Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30. Lancaster Opera House, 21 Central Avenue Lancaster, NY 14086 (716-683-1776) lancasteropera.org

SMART PEOPLE, a play by Lydia R. Diamond, directed by Phil Knoerzer, about four Harvard community members dealing with racial issues runs through December 19, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 4:00 presented by Ujima Company Inc. The Lorna C. Hill Theatre is located in School 77, 429 Plymouth Avenue, Buffalo, 14213 (716-322-5178) ujimacommunity.org 

THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, musical, presented by O'Connell & Company (December 3 - December 19) Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00 on the Ken-Ton Elmwood Commons Mainstage, 3200 Elmwood Avenue, Tonawanda, NY 14217 (oconnellandcompany.com) (716-848-0800) "Based on the book by L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, this musical chronicles the life of Claus."

TRIBUTE, a play by Bernard Slade, directed by Jay Desiderio, continues at Desiderio's Dinner Theatre through December 18 in the back of Bobby J's American Grill 204 Como Park Blvd Cheektowaga featuring Gregory Gjurich, Zachery Gammel, Lisa Hinca, Jennifer Starr, Lisa Ludwig, Robert Insana, and Marie Costa. Shows run most Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays (& some Wednesdays). (http://www.mybobbyjs.com/desiderio-s-dinner-theatre) Reservations by telephone only 716-395-3207 Evening: 6pm Dinner, 7:30pm Show Matinee: 1pm Dinner, 2:30pm Show

OPENINGS (listed by date, then alphabetically):

A VERY DIVA BY DIVA CHRISTMAS, one night only, Wednesday December 15 at 7:30 at the Ken-Ton Elmwood Commons Mainstage, 3200 Elmwood Avenue, Tonawanda, NY 14217. Show only or Dinner and Show package available. Call for details. (oconnellandcompany.com) (716-848-0800)

CINDERELLA, ballet by Prokofiev, with The State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine, one night only, tonight, Friday, December 10, at 7:30 pm. Shea's Performing Arts Center, 650 Main St. Buffalo (716-847-1410) Sheas.org.

THE LINDSEY STIRLING CHRISTMAS PROGRAM, one night only, December 11, at 8:00. Shea's Performing Arts Center, 650 Main St. Buffalo (716-847-1410) Sheas.org.

HAMILTON, Dec 14, 2021-Jan 2, 2022 (a three week run!) Tuesday - Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00, Sunday at 1:00 and 6:30 (performances on Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day but NO PERFORMANCE CHRISTMAS EVE DECEMBER 24.) Shea's Performing Arts Center, 650 Main St. Buffalo (716-847-1410) Sheas.org.

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