Even if the curtain hadn’t fallen on Buffalo’s Studio Arena Theatre — the setting for this play — earlier this year, A.R. Gurney’s sweet ode to the Queen City and its thespian folk would still feel timely. As regional theaters across America continue to vanish at an alarming rate, Gurney’s drama — a portrait of amateur artists swarming around faded star Amanda (Dharma & Greg‘s Susan Sullivan) — fits the moment, even though it was originally staged in 2001. Amanda believes in personal roots (her beloved, deceased grandmother’s home is dear to her), so despite a potentially lucrative sitcom offer from Fox and in spite of her serious line-learning problem, she agrees to star in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Surrounding her are an acerbic, cautious director (Jennifer Regan), a handy-dandy stage manager (James Waterston, son of Law & Order‘s Sam), and an anxious assistant (Carmen M. Herlihy) obsessed with Buffalo culture. And then there’s Amanda’s mysterious old flame (Mark Blum) who turns up unexpectedly.
Gurney isn’t the edgiest of playwrights, and Buffalo Gal occasionally chokes on syrup fumes (the introduction of an old musical duet between the former lovebirds is a bit too aw-shucks). But he’s a writer who’s genuinely in love with his creations, and Sullivan’s clipped, self-aware Amanda is a welcome addition to his canon of colorful women. When Gurney ventures into too-rose-colored territory, the still-luminous Sullivan thankfully grounds the drama. Being a Buffalo native, I can assure you that it isn’t quite the paradise so lovingly recalled. (Tickets: Ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200) B