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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Chase

The Year Past: in memoriam

A celebration of Buffalo Theater Personalities Who have left us


A new year inspires hope for the future and an accounting of the year past. While 2020 certainly afforded many happy memories, it is likely to be remembered most vividly as a time of struggle for everyone. Nothing brings this more starkly into focus that the realization that on my roster of theater folk we lost in in the past year, three were taken by Covid-19: Joey Giambra, Marc-Jon Filippone, and Terrence McNally.

Because theater seasons begin in autumn, I have included Timothy Patrick Finnegan, who left us in October 2019 on my list. He would have been memorialized at the 30th Annual Artie Awards in June, but that event was postponed because of the pandemic.

The theater world that slowly begins to reemerge in 2021 will be remarkably different from the one that shut down in March 2020. During the shutdown, the leaders of both African American theater companies in Buffalo died. Each individual we lost last year is irreplaceable, but Agnes Bain and Lorna C. Hill were the lynchpins of an important and delicate structure. Ujima is just reemerging as a major force on our theater landscape after a few years of decline and struggle. The Paul Robeson Theatre is part of a major capital expansion at the African American Cultural Center.

I find that in my collection of theater artifacts, I have reminders of everyone on the list. I am aware that there may be people whose passing escaped my knowledge, and I don't presume that my list is complete by any means.

I hope you might find these memories to be interesting or sentimental, and that you will take comfort in reminders of shows from long ago, and of people who have left us.



Miss Bain with longtime Robeson artistic director Paulette Harris
Miss Bain with longtime Robeson artistic director Paulette Harris

Agnes with Javier Bustillos

A selection of the many shows for with Agnes served as executive producer.


Actor / Producer

Claudia with Fortunato Pezzimenti

Claudia with Sandra Gilliam, Darleen Pickering-Hummert, Javier Bustillos, and Ann Gayley

Claudia with Richard Satterwhite and Eileen Dugan at Studio Arena Theatre on "Holiday Performance" night

A program for an early Theatre for Change performance of "Father Knows Best," featuring Bess Brown and Phil Knoerzer. Claudia played "Marty" and also served as "assistant director, stage manager, and alternate actress." The play highlighted the issue of domestic violence.



Richard Fanning from the BUA production of "F***ing Men," his final role.

The cast of "F***ing Men" at BUA. Fanning is at the far right.

For many years, Fanning was the "go to" guy if you needed a well-muscled actor who could sing. Miles Glorioso in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" was a perfect Richard Fanning role.

"El Gallo" in "The Fantasticks" was arguably Fanning's signature role.




Actor, director, playwright

Before everyone was a Diva, the great Lorna C. Hill was THE diva. Not in the temperamental sense, but in the sense of being a remarkable and charismatic actress. She was founder of Ujima Theatre Company, Buffalo's oldest continuously running acting ensemble.

Lorna as Martha in Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" with Richard Satterwhite as Nick and Jennifer Smith as Honey. Saul Elkin was George. Nancy N. Doherty directed the co-production by Ujima and Buffalo Ensemble Theatre in 1991.

Lorna as Madame Arcati in the BUA production of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit." Michele Ninacs was Elvira; Richard Lambert was Charles; and N. Regina Jackson was Ruth. Lorna played the character with a West Indies accent and incorporated elements of producer Javier Bustillos' voice and mannerisms into her marvelously comic and original performance.

Lorna at the opening of the new Ujima Theatre space with company members Beverly Dove, Sarah Norat-Phillips, and Gerald Ramsey.

Lorna with Janine and Saul Elkin

Lorna with Bob Ball and Jason Trost

Lorna played Antigone opposite Stephen McKinley Henderson's Creon for Curtain Up! in 1989.

A selection of Lorna C. Hill programs from years past.




Actor, playwright

Joey with the late playwright Manny Fried, actor Michele Ninacs, playwright Kathleen Betsko Yale, and actor Michael Karr. Giambra, Ninacs, and Karr had appeared together in Yale's play, "Johnny Bull."

The poster for "Johnny Bull"

The program for Joe Orton's "Entertaining Mr. Sloan" at the New Phoenix Theatre on the Park, in which Joe played Kemp, the father.

Joe with the cast of "Entertaining Mr. Sloan" -- Richard Lambert, David Avery, and Kamala Boeck


Playwright, actor



Starting out as a child performer, Mary's mother fantasized that her child would become the next Shirley Temple. She was billed as "Cinderella."

Mary in her Artie Award winning performance at the New Phoenix
Mary performing at "The Kitchen Theatre" in Ithaca

Mary as Edna Edson Taylor in "Over the Falls" at Alleyway

Mary was the first Curtain Up! Queen. Richard Lambert was her King. Michael Karr was the life of any party.

Mary with Kelly Meg Brennan and Sharon Strait in Edward Albee's "Three Tall Women" at the New Phoenix.

Mary with Andrew and Michael Klemm

Double Trouble: Mary Loftus and the great John Buscaglia.



Not a Buffalonian, the four-time Tony Award winner was a huge supporter of LGBTQ+ artists. He came to Buffalo to support Buffalo United Artists on to help support its 25th anniversary with a an event at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site in 2016. The company had produced many of his shows, and he particularly liked the BUA poster for "Some Men."

Anthony Chase, Terrence McNally, Javier Bustillos, and Tom Kirdahy at Niagara Falls
While the nation mourns the loss of a great playwright, in my household this is also a personal loss. Terrence was the witness at our wedding; his husband, Tom, performed the ceremony.



Harold won an Artie for his performance in August Wilson's "Seven Guitars" from the 1998-1999 Paul Robeson Theatre season.


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