BWW Review: THE BUFFALO PLAY Roams Rogue at The Tank
Social media serves up story after story of the fate awaiting tourists who try too hard to document The Big Moment: falling into a volcano while trying to take a selfie, crashing into an irreplaceable artwork, calfnapping a bison at Yellowstone National Park. Wait, what? Yes -- not only is that last one true, it also served as the inspiration for the satisfyingly surreal The Buffalo Play, a fearless one-act playing through May 23 at The Tank.
Coming from the midwest, I was familiar with cow tipping. But a play about baby bison calfnapping? At its core, The Buffalo Play is a unique contemporary centering of human folly set among flora and fauna, pitting Woman (apologetic and naïve) against Buffalo (snorting and skeptical). They engage in a primal téte-a-téte that explores what it means to be an outsider, to be human, and the repercussions of a good deed gone bad.
Written by Ciara Griffin and Kendra Potter, directed by Mason Wagner, and presented by BetweentheLines Theatre, MT + NYC Collaborative, and The Tank, Play begins with a silent-movie projection of a herd of buffalo making its way across the plains. The image reverses direction, repeats, reverses, repeats -- alluding to three themes that give the play its bones: disruption, perception and the expansion/contraction of time.
The character Buffalo (in a transformational performance by Potter) lives in the headspace of Woman (the likable, vulnerable Griffin), a social justice activist who has just been arrested for calfnapping a baby bison that she perceived to be cold and alone. At first, Griffin comes across as a bleeding heart liberal intent on saving the world one good deed at a time, but as she begins to bond with Buffalo and access her deepest memories, she returns to her warrior woman roots and starts behaving ravenously with stunning effect.
The setting of the play (and scene of the initial crime) is a compact space that morphs between the external (the park) and internal (a jail cell). Front-row ticket-holders beware: you may have the unique experience like I did of being a knee's-distance away from a bison slurping from a toilet.
Sarah Kelly (Costume Design) dresses the beauty as a beast. In form and ferocity, Potter would dominate GLOW. She struts upright but is otherwise anatomically correct as she paces, ruts, bellows and confronts Woman. She is one bad-ass bison.
"No one in my herd has ever been frostbit, or my mother's herd, or her mother's herd before her. We walk into storms. Straight in. If a blizzard is coming, a thunderstorm, hailstorm, we walk straight into it. Heads down, side by side. We herd-up. We walk forward. By walking through it, we do not get stuck in it. We get to other side quicker. We know how to weather a storm."
The verbose buffalo does her best to educate Woman, and vice versa. Although the majority of the play attempts to deconstruct important timely topics such as social justice, consent, abortion, fracking, air pollution, and maternal instinct, there are a few wry moments of lost-in-translation humor (such as when Woman tries to explain that Fox News is not fox news). And just when I thought that The Buffalo Play had stalled in a didactic zone of moral storytelling, it veered off into a surprising direction that added a new layer to the narrative.
Hank (Jeremy Sher as Woman's cellmate) adds an amusing-but-annoyingly drunk, male perspective to the situation. Hank nonchalantly mansplains the grisly process of how to get a bison mother (aka a cow) to take on another's offspring. Spoiler alert: it ain't pretty.
Woman: That's disgusting.
Buffalo: That's deceitful.
Hank: That's nature. We have no responsibility to nature, honey.
Buffalo: We are nature.
Woman: But I f-ed it up.
Sher provides comic relief; Sukha Belle Potter (Baby Bison) adds a little tenderness. Perhaps it was because I saw the play on Mother's Day weekend, but I found her scenes to be particularly moving.
I repeat: a play about a calfnapped buffalo? Yes. I entered the theater a skeptic and exited it a fan. It runs until May 23; tickets are available here.