When WNY American Repertory Theater unplugged “The Paradigm Bomb” in May was the right decision, the playwright says. For a city just beginning to deal with the aftermath of a racist mass shooting, the pain was still too raw to absorb the play’s themes of alienation, indoctrination and radicalization.
Four months later, the opening of the play for ART’s 2022-23 season is a sign of healing and a step towards understanding. It will premiere September 9 at the theater at 545 Elmwood Ave.
“It was an easy choice to postpone the show,” said Matthew LaChiusa, executive and artistic director of ART, as well as the author of “The Paradigm Bomb”. He said he and director Monish Bhattacharyya, along with the cast, took a step back to reconsider the play over the summer and worked on significant changes.
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“We really analyzed it in the context of what happened here last May, and we got into the concept of why an individual becomes radicalized,” LaChiusa said. “There were other elements in the room, but we decided, ‘Let’s focus on that.’ ”
The result, he says, is “a very strong, cerebral and socially conscious piece. I think the timing is right to open the season at ART.
The evolution of “Paradigm Bomb” mirrors in some ways the evolution of ART. In its 15th season, the theater is redoubling its efforts to promote Western New York artists and themes that reflect the region’s diversity. Like the upcoming season, 2021-22 was also made up entirely of works by local writers, with a grant that allowed ART to present shows on a “pay what you can” basis.
“It was a success, commercially and artistically. It was good. We didn’t suffer,” LaChiusa said. “And building on last year’s success, we will continue to support the artistic vision of local playwrights.”
“The stigma of people not wanting to risk seeing local playwrights was swept away in the last year,” he said.
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As a reminder, ART will present a staged reading of its 2021 Artie Award-winning play, “Speed of Dark” on September 21, along with the four regular productions. “Speed of Dark” is a drama about four workers who lose track of time and find themselves trapped in a “sunset town” after dark. Playwright Mark Humphrey and Patricia A. Carter of the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s Living Legacy Project will discuss the play’s themes after the reading.
The rest of the season promises to be, at least, a little less heavy. Local poet and playwright Justin Karcher’s “The Birth of Santa” is ART’s “holiday” show, described as a darkly comedic take-off on “A Christmas Carol.”
LaChuisa said the piece, which opens Dec. 1, is “for people who want to see something different from classic holiday fare. It’s irreverent and ironic – the only way Justin can express his views on Christmas.
The spring production, “Rust and Redemption: Requiem for a Buffalo Grunge Band,” comes from Buffalo author/educator/playwright John Snodgrass. The story looks at former band members who reconnect when one of the band’s original members dies.
“It’s a music-driven piece,” LaChiusa said.
Between those shows is “Mercy Seat,” the traditional one-act ART showcase of short works, inspired this year by the alt-punk musical tales of Nick Cave. It opens on February 16. The framing device of a tent revival will weave the pieces together.
As pandemic shutdowns and precautions begin to fade, ART is looking ahead.
“Everyone involved in this season is just hyper-jacked. It’s infectious enthusiasm,” he said, then added with a laugh, “OK, maybe that’s a bad choice of words, but everyone’s excited. We have a hell of a thing going on here in the 716.”
Sept. 9-Oct. 1: “The paradigmatic bomb”
December 1-23: “The Birth of Santa Claus”
February 16-March 11: “Mercy Seat”
April 21-May 13: “Rust & Redemption: Requiem for a Buffalo Grunge Band”
7 p.m. September 21, staged reading of “Speed of Dark” ($15)
Times and Tickets: Most shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 p.m. Saturdays. Tickets usually cost $20; $15 for students (artofwny.org716-697-0837).