THE BASICS: ONCE IN MY LIFETIME: A Buffalo Football Fantasy, the world premiere of a play by Buffalo’s own Donna Hoke, presented by Buffalo Boys Productions, directed by Victoria Pérez-Maggiolo, through Saturday, September 8, Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays and Sundays at both 2:30 and 7:30 at Shea’s Smith Theatre, adjacent to Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 658 Main Street (847-0850) www.ticketmaster.com Runtime: 90 minutes without intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: In the “Author’s Notes” playwright Donna Hoke writes: “In May 2017, Chris Braun – a guy I didn’t know, but who had a fierce love for both Buffalo and the Bills – contacted me about an idea he had for a play in which the Buffalo Bills do the as-yet unattainable.” Unique among NFL teams, the Bills went to the Superbowl four years in a row (1990 – “wide right” – through 1993) and came back empty-handed four years in a row. A Superbowl win is Buffalo’s “impossible dream” but at the “Miracle Bar” crammed to the rafters with Bills tchotchkes, in a play stuffed with Bills references, memories, and, yes, jokes, a stranger comes and shows the denizens how it could be. It’s charming and goofy, and a little like HARVEY in its use of magical realism.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Mythologist Joseph Campbell explained “The Hero’s Journey” which can be described in many ways. But simply put, the hero gets a call to adventure, refuses the call, but after meeting a mentor (think Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings”), crosses the threshold into a special world where there are tests. Allies are revealed to be enemies while enemies are revealed to be allies. The hero seizes a reward, there is a resurrection, and the hero returns with that reward, that gift, that healing elixir.
That, basically, is the arc of the 90-minute play ONCE IN MY LIFETIME. Of course, it looks different on stage with a crew of gruntled and disgruntled Bills fans. But what you have to understand is that the hero of the stage play is not any particular Buffalo Bill, not even the whole damn team. The hero is the 12th man on the field – the fans – who have been tested, time and time again to the point of refusing the call, but who, with the right mentor, can overcome adversity and triumph, bringing a healing elixir back to their hometown
So, we learn that when one truly “Bill-ieves,” amazing things can happen. A grandmother can be reunited with her grandchildren over a thousand miles away, a gay son can be reunited with his disapproving father, an unhealable rift among old friends can be mended, Cowboys – Bills – and even Patriots fans can join together in a peaceable kingdom, and, yes, the Bills CAN win a Superbowl. Shall we hold hands and sing “Kumbaya?” Nah. But we can hop to our feet and sing “Shout.”
Do you have to be a Bills fan to enjoy this play? Not really. In fact, if you have observed friends, neighbors, relatives, and co-workers at the beginning of every NFL season with bemusement, you will hear a number of thoughts expressed that may have crossed your own mind (“what IS it with the Bills in this town, anyway?). Of course, if you ARE a Bill-iever, you will love it, and there will be opportunities to shout and holler and even sing.
And, while statistically theater audiences are about 68% women, word is that guys are loving this show, and why not? It’s set in a Buffalo bar and it’s all about the Bills. What more do you need to know?
Do you have to be a Bills fan to enjoy this play? Not really.
Once again, set designer Paul Bostaph has gone above and beyond, aided by many in Buffalo willing to lend Bills items to make the “Miracle Bar” about as authentic as anything you’re ever likely to see. And, of course, there’s the Bostaph signature, a set with real running water. (The snowstorm is pretty good, too).
Victoria Pérez-Maggiolo (listen to an interview here) is one of Buffalo’s finest working directors. She has an uncanny ability to draw the best out of each actor in terms of body language, facial expressions, and comedic timing.
And the cast is first rate. Josie DiVicenzo is absolutely kick-ass as “Lyn” who inherited the bar from her late husband whose portrait dominates the entrance and who, we are to believe, asked on his deathbed that she keep the bar open until the Bills win a Superbowl. Jake Hayes is also completely at ease in his role of Lyn’s helper, “Ty,” and Kyle Baran has a great presence on stage as “Willy.” (Remember the “mentor” in The Hero’s Journey?)
The curvaceous Diane DiBernardo is a welcome antidote to all this testosterone on stage as “Belinda Sue” who, as she says several times, enjoys having sex “on a pile of money” with her husband, the winning gambler P.T., played with delightful intensity by Jon May. Aaron Krygier and Kinzy Brown play “George” and “Al,” the old friends who have become estranged. Adam Hayes plays “Ethan,” the young man estranged from his father, while Pamela Rose Mangus and Steve Brachman play the very funny Announcer #1 and #2.
Note #1: On the night I saw this play there had been a recent unavoidable cast replacement and so the timing was not always what it could have been. It should be more up to speed when YOU go to the show.
Note #2: Whenever obtaining tickets for any Shea’s venue (the Performing Arts Center, Shea’s Smith Theatre, or Shea’s 710) only deal with either the official Shea’s box office or with Ticketmaster. There are scammers out there eager to take your money.
UP NEXT: Shea’s Smith is not a producing theater, but a rental space, where, in coming weeks, O’Connell and Company’s “Curtain Up!” show on Friday, September 14 will be GENTLEMEN PREFER DIVAS.
Look for the Second Generation Theatre to offer BIG FISH, the musical, running from October 12 to 28.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!