Review by Edmond Malin
Planet Connections Theatre Festivity continues to present plays that raise awareness about global issues. Tongue In Cheek Theater Productions presents “Buffalo Heights”, written by Adam Harrell, directed by TIC’s Producing Artistic Director, Jake Lipman.
The production is in support of Trinity Place Shelter, a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth.
Have you ever wondered where ruthless people come from?
Have you thought of choosing a carefree life for yourself, completely ignoring society’s expectations?
This funny play tackles the above quandaries, while exploring the sinister implications for our country of encouraging leaders to act like overindulged high schoolers.
Françoise “Fran” Favre (the sunny dispositioned Jake Lipman) is back from living in France and ready to teach at Buffalo Heights High School. She is not made to feel welcome. Local security of the mall cop variety is provided by Mike (the mustachioed Patrick Truhler), who presents as the kind of person who believes right-wing propaganda. Who is this strange person coming into from a foreign country to teach in our school, he wonders? After his sexual advances are rebuffed (“I’m a dyke, Mike”), he treats the newcomer with incomprehension. Buffalo is painted as a place so close to Canada which does not want to know anything about the outside world.
We next meet Principal Jean Washington (the sweet yet guarded Maria Maloney), a close childhood friend of Fran’s. The Principal rescues Fran from Mike, welcomes her to her new job, but gives her some polite advice about Buffalo: stop dressing like you’re in college, tone down the lesbian thing, and beware of a certain seventeen year-old student, Piper Matthews (the endearingly vicious Brittany Anika Liu). Fran has already seen Piper in the hallways asking folks to sign a fake petition. When another student, Conner Smith (the open-minded Jordan P. Schroeder) exposes Piper’s lies, she cries, just about swoons, and expertly becomes the victim. Piper even gives Fran an “apology sucker” with her picture on it (for some unexplained reason, Piper has these mass-produced) but when the candy-averse Fran chucks the lollypop in the rubbish bin, she is treated as the aggressor. Fran then encourages Conner to run for student council just to oppose Piper. Conner, independently wealthy son of a sanitation man, sees through the garbage which Piper spews. Fran and Conner become allies.
What a surprise for Fran to meet Piper’s mother, Congresswoman Diane Matthews (the towering Lori Funk), a lady who not only believes anything her daughter claims to be true, but is the only person with the power to get the school its desperately-needed funding. Why can’t Fran not challenge Piper, asks Principal Washington. The Principal wants to hold onto her quiet, happy life, her school, her husband (who is taller than the national average) and her two retrievers: Goldie and Hawn. In short, the Principal asks Fran to act like a nice rabbit, but she turns around and teaches her students Guillaume Apollinaire “Bestiare”, a work with a more subversive message.
Like a pint of beer, much commotion brings thing to a head. Fran does dare to oppose Piper, and Congresswoman Matthews persuades the community that Fran is a threat. Those who follow the herd, like Mike, are easily persuaded by Piper’s tantrums, and turn on the outsider. Was the last French teacher, who fed amidst a nervous breakdown, in a similar situation?
Quite a lot of business ensues. See the show just to understand how we have a chance of keeping unscrupulous people from gaining power.
Particularly memorable is Fran’s encounter with Stumpy the Buffalo, a statue which comes to life and gives advice worthy of a spirit animal. There is even some unexpected closure. Do you think love or money wins the day? I’m not telling.
Jake Lipman does triple duty in this production, and somehow remains cool in the face of Republicans and other phenomena her character did not need to worry about during her sojourn in France. Being openly LGBTQ and not facing discrimination in the workplace is just one more amazing thing about New York City, as distinct from stage Buffalo. Lori Funk brings the fury of the Finger Lakes down on those who question her. But scary though her image may be, we are all mortal and perhaps one day we will all shuffle off to Buffalo. Resistance is not useless, as Jordan P. Schroeder, representing the younger generation, teaches his teacher. Brittany Anika Liu gives us the most amazing adolescent hysterics, which may remind you either of a bully from your high school or of a president whose name rhymes with “rump”. Maria Maloney foes through an impressive transformation, showing us all what we can do if we listen to ourselves.