Get Cultured — June 27, 2017 at 4:27 pm

“Buffalo Heights” is an Outdated Production of a Serious Subject

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To create a truly thought provoking comedy is a hard task to pull off. To make people laugh and accept absurdity in stressful situations is an art in itself. Many playwrights try, and most fail in the process. There are lines that are hard to cross without being offensive, or simply looking ignorant of the subject itself. Tongue In Cheek Productions last show was the incredibly funny and relevant “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” in which this company gave life to Gina Gionfriddo’s characters with memorable performances and delightful banter. So when Tongue In Cheek’s new production was advertised and the invitation arrived, the excitement was on. Sadly, Buffalo Heights by Adam Harrell and directed by Jake Lipman is no “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” and while the performances are on par, the script provoked the wrong thoughts.

In “Buffalo Heights” we have the story of a teacher that has just moved back to the states from France after being deported. Hoping for a fresh start, she accepts a job at a high school where her college roommate is now the principal. From there, the plot develops into a study of the small town mentality, and how much we are willing to stand up for ourselves and our truth. Especially when accusations of sexual harassment are brought and the most serious topic is shown.

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The topic of sexual activities between student and teachers and the false accusations of it is an extremely serious one that causes lifelong damages to the victims. This is a delicate subject, one that should be treated with respect. It takes a great writer to turn it into something that is both funny and raise awareness to the issue. You could feel uncomfortable as long as it touches you and makes you laugh. But I did not feel that kind of discomfort. Instead, what we got is a borderline offensive treatment of what it is essentially rape accusations and how you can laugh it off and come on top. This is not reality, not even close. And the jokes do not land, making it more cringe-worthy the closer and closer we get to its climax. To give an example, the security guard in the play had been accused of sexual harassment by another student once upon a time. Not only does he still have a job at the school, but he pats one of other students down just to denounce a teacher for hugging him later. When the revelation that he was accused happens, it’s performed for laughs which was truly disturbing. One of the characters points out the ridiculousness of him keeping his job, but it’s quickly dropped right after. I saw multiple people in the audience literally hit palm to face at various points in the last ten minutes. That is never a good sign.

And that is too bad. Jake Lipman and company put a very good production of this play at the Planet Connection Festival, in which their performances were by far the best part of it. The whole ensemble exudes charisma and demanded attention, but the characters lacked relatable traits or even realistic dialogue. I remain excited for Tongue In Cheek’s next production, but will have to put this one as a miss. And I love comedies that tackle hard subjects, when done right.

*All images by Peter Welch

Out of 4 stars:

Stars

Twisted Talk: Have you seen any of Tongue in Cheek Production shows? What’s the last show you saw in NYC? Discuss below!

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