Finding a thought-provoking comedy can be like finding the Holy Grail. It needs to have the perfect mix of laugh-out-loud and dash of a subtle message otherwise the audience catches on and realizes what you’re trying to do to them. In Adam Harrell’s Buffalo Heights, produced by Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions, there are moments of funny but by the time the message is supposed to land, the play is too far gone. Instead, Buffalo Heights is a stylistic mash-up that’s reminiscent of those silly movie comedies with the actor du-jour that flop at the box office.
In Buffalo Heights, we watch new French teacher Fran as she accidently upsets the status quo at the titlular school after she goes toe-to-toe with the spoiled brat daughter of a local congresswoman. Along the way we meet Fran’s old college buddy turned principal Jean, moustache-rocking school security guard buffoon Mike, and pot-smoking student Conner, who only seems to get a slap on the wrist for his actions, all of whom, play an integral part in messing up Fran’s newfound life. The message that the play wanted to offer was how the impact of a little rumor could destroy the lives of many and force that politics plays on society. While the message was clear, by the time we arrived at the moral, the story had leapt into a world of predictability. Additionally, the inconsistency within the comedic world of the play did not aid in what the play was trying to be. Having Jean and Mike, played effortlessly funny by Joe Mullen and Shelley Little, serve as caricatures against Jake Lipman’s “straight-man” Fran (which would probably be played by Tina Fey in the movie version) allowed for a comedic style of satire to shine through. However when the remainder of the characters fell into the less caricatured manner, it became confusing as what the style of the play was. Had Diane, Piper, and Conner been played into the stereotypical extremes, Fran’s journey would have been clearer. And had Conner been at a ten to start, Fran’s influence on him to change would have allowed for a much more defined character arc. Yet Matthew Whitfield’s Conner was still played quite well, proving to be one of the stronger actors on stage.
With scenes jumping from location to location, Buffalo Heights doesn’t quite land on the stage, screaming to be turned into a movie. Scenic designer Michael Lounsbery’s simplistic design is beautiful and streamlined, but was not utilized to the best of its ability. Perhaps another eye in the director’s chair would have aided in seamlessly smoothing out the kinks throughout, especially the inconsistent scene transitions.
This incarnation of Buffalo Heights missed the mark. In the future, with a little more attention to detail, Buffalo Heights could have a potential life…in the cinema.