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SARATOGA SPRINGS – By the time the early 1970s rolled around, any promise perceived of a train bound for glory on a fast track to the Aquarian Age had instead become supplanted by a cranky subway car departing a graffiti-stained station with a congregation of misfits aboard.
It is these characters of humanity – Rake the hustler, Fick the junkie, Al the alcoholic, and Franny the transvestite prostitute – put on display, in all their grit and glory in the staging of Skidmore Theater’s presentation of “Balm In Gilead.” The play, scripted by Lanford Wilson, premiered Off Off Broadway at La MaMa in 1965 and a generation later re-set to take place in the early 1970s.
The geography is uptown Manhattan, the setting an all-night diner where characters drift in and out against a backdrop of booths and swiveling stools that lean on a cheesy, diamond-motif counter topped by metal napkin holders, red and yellow plastic-spout squeeze bottles, and a big, clunky cash register.
Under the direction of Phil Soltanoff - a veteran of recent projects staged in Austin, Vancouver, Los Angeles and New York City - the two dozen or so Skidmore College players convincingly convey a scenario with a talented realism that certainly pre-dates the time before their own existence on earth if not their parents, in providing a voyeuristic experience of a collection of characters whose lives are simultaneously humorous and tragic.
Sydney Tennant portrays the doe-eyed Darlene - a naïve, newly transplanted New Yorker - with credible splendor, marathon monologuing deep into the night, expressing every single thought that pours from her mind with a blend of child-like innocence and annoying animation. She engages even the most hardened characters seated in the 24-hour diner in a shared humanity, if only for a fleeting moment. When she concludes her soliloquy by saying “Anyway, to make a long story short…” it cracks everyone up, characters and audience alike.
In John - the grungy, apron-draped cafe manager portrayed by Jacob Hudson who alternates his time between cooking in the kitchen and showing non-paying customers the door - and Kay, the yellow- garbed waitress played by Anabel Milton who runs around taking coffee orders and wiping down tables – the play depicts a solid foundation of the drab, bleak realities of the working class. It stands in high contrast to the commotion of platinum blonde wigs and wounded blue jeans, hot pants, leather thigh-high boots and fishnet stockings, silver sequined miniskirts and post-hippie fringe in a sleaze-and-glam cacophony that lives somewhere between a New York Dolls concert and a Starsky & Hutch TV show.
Lulu Fairclough-Stewart especially shines as the oh-so-bored, scarlet-haired Ann, providing a perfect foil to Darlene’s ramblings, nursing a cigarette and firmly encased in her hard shell of emotional body armor, before heading back into the street, past a shuttered bodega and an alleyway framed by trash, to make her living. Chris Naughton is convincing as well in a lead role as the mustached drug dealer Joe, for whom the naïve Darlene falls.
The ensemble as a whole weaves its work like a large orchestra, a series of direct and non-direct actions conveying the mayhem with an authenticity; These student actors bring the scenes to life.
An appropriate soundtrack blares out the diner jukebox throughout: Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Meeting Across the River,” “Thunder Road,” and “Jungleland,” and “Waltzing Matilda” sung by Tom Waits, that fittingly sprinkles the optimistic hope of escape onto on-the-nod moments of despair.
After the final curtain call, the characters return for one more go-around the diner, reminiscent of the dusky cycling at the conclusion of the Rolling Stones documentary “Gimme Shelter,” and which leaves the open question: are we moving on to a grander time in this life, or being forced to return to our destiny, time and again?
Skidmore Theater Presents “Balm In Gilead,” by Lanford Wilson. Director: Phil Soltanoff.
Performances at 8 p.m. Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 23. Skidmore College: Janet Kinghorn Bernhard Mainstage. Tickets are $12 adult, $8 students and faculty. After the April 22 performance of Balm in Gilead, the Skidmore Theater Department will host its annual house party. “That 70’s House Party,” is a celebratory event to recognize the department’s achievements this year.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – There is no rest for the dominant track and field stars of Saratoga Springs High School.
Just one week after blowing away competition at the NYSPHSAA 2017 Indoor Track & Field Championships in Staten Island, sophomore Kelsey Chmiel and senior Nick Cavotta took another trip down to New York City to compete in the 2017 New Balance Nationals Indoor (NBNI). The event, a premier national-level event for high school track and field athletes, was held in the Armory Track & Field Center and ran from March 10-12.
Competing this time in the 2-mile, Chmiel put in another stellar performance, despite taking part in a more endurance-testing event. Finishing in third place behind Brie Oakley of Aurora, CO, and Jessica Lawson of Elmira, NY, her time was 10 minutes and 12.94 seconds, narrowly but definitively besting the national record for sophomore girls in the 2-mile event, as well as the state record. Previously, the national record was held by Hannah De Balsi of Westport, CT, with a time of 10 minutes and 12.95 seconds, giving Chmiel the edge by 0.01 seconds. This marks back-to-back broken records for Chmiel, who set the national sophomore record in the girls 3,000 meter event at the state championships the previous weekend.
“The state level is usually pretty competitive,” Chmiel said. “But nationals has some really competitive and fast people in it.”
Characteristically modest about her performances, Chmiel said that she was pleased at the gradual improvement she had made over the course of the indoor season. Coach Linda Kranick, always more keen to tout the runner’s achievements, led the rest of the girls track and field team in a round of applause for Chmiel’s record-breaking run right before her first practice back on Monday afternoon.
“I like the longer distances, so the 3K is usually my focus,” Chmiel said about what she will focusing on going forward into the outdoor season.
Cavotta once again competed in the long jump event that has been his signature in the past few weeks. Coming in 14th place out of 33 finalists, Cavotta’s farthest jump measured 21 feet 11.5 inches, lower than the 23-foot jump that helped him claim his first ever state title and break his school’s long jump record. While admitting that Cavotta might have made the top 8 if he had given his best jump, coach Chris Conley remains nonetheless impressed with the progress he has made during his high school career.
“Halfway through his sophomore year, he came out for outdoor track day,” Conley said. “And in the last couple seasons, he’s really started to put a lot of technical stuff together. He’s come a good amount of ways in a short amount of time.”
For now, Cavotta is resting up for a week before moving into the outdoor track season, as Conley traditionally likes to do for his athletes between seasons. Moving forward, Cavotta will focus on competing in a few different events, including 200 and 400 meters, in addition to the long jump, as he begins to be recruited by more and more universities.