The centennial fanfare surrounding the Pan-American Exposition has culminated with Studio Arena's skillful adaptation of "City of Light," bringing the soon-to-be classic novel of Buffalo's rich history to audiences with all its intricate charms intact.
Those who have read Lauren Belfer's novel might question how 518 very detailed pages could be brought to the visual milieu of the stage, with its numerous plots and subplots of love, hate, suspense, murder and mystery and countless settings in Victorian mansions, steel factories and Buffalo's vital waterways. Anthony Clarvoe's script rises to the task, and with Gavin Cameron-Webb's direction, the play far exceeds audience's expectations - along with the author's.
"I read the book, and I was anticipating how they could fit all the details in," said Marita Ronald, a marketing manager for Hyatt's. "I think they are doing a great job of getting all the details in. It flows really well - if you've read the book."
Glendora Johnson-Cooper, an undergraduate library employee at UB, said "It was lovely seeing Buffalo's history on stage in full form. And Mary Talbert, particularly, kept everybody's feet to the fire and made them think about doing the right thing ... I enjoyed it."
Belfer herself was impressed with how the play carried the revivalist spirit of her work.
"I knew from the very beginning when I first met with Anthony Clarvoe and Gavin Cameron-Webb, we saw the book in the same light," said Belfer. "The theatre is very different from a novel, so I knew they would have to transform the work. And I think they did it brilliantly."
Brilliantly is an understatement. Ingenious would better fit the play's inclusion of approximately thirty characters from the novel, played by 17 actors. Personifying each character in a different light, the actors added lilts to the vocal strains and took on different walking statures according to the character they represented at the time.
The play scales back, however, with the multiple locations of the story, replacing some with a mere mention in the dialogue. Those locations brought onstage include the homes of the various characters, grand manifestations of the economic prosperity found within the industrial revolution: Niagara Falls, The Niagara Frontier Power Company, Three Sisters Island, The Buffalo Club and, of course, The Pan-American Exposition itself.
Inspired set design allowed scenes to flow into one another with unparalleled fluidity. Servants of the house enter and change props unnoticed while players onstage continue their dialogue. An intriguing facsimile of Buffalo's noted world wonder is created merely with a still photo of the Falls and steam from the ceiling fixtures.
The rivers that claimed lives as they sped commerce exist as reflective light dancing with the mirth of actual water. A makeshift tower rolled in and filling the room with its many incandescent lights, represented the Pan-American Exposition in a well thought-out and phenomenal spectacle.
Within the fictional storylines, many historical figures alive at the time surface and add creative texture to the plot, along with the members of wealthy industrial families invested in the vital plants and factories of the day. Notable figures such as the Rumsey and Albright families, along with President McKinley and Mary Talbert, whose profound effect on women's and racial equality was felt far beyond Western New York, grace the stage.
Placed in the realm of historic perspective, the characters breathe life, their depiction of a gone but not forgotten Buffalo becoming more real. The words to describe the intensity and intrinsic value of the production would be understated in any capacity.
The production will be playing at the Studio Arena Theatre until October 14, with a limited availability of tickets. Call 856-5650 for show times and box office information.