Do you believe in miracles? Or are you a sceptic who thinks only the naive are subject to such nonsense? But what if miracles occur only if you believe in them and it is your worry and disappointment and fear that keep miracles at bay?
Award-winning, nationally-acclaimed Buffalo playwright Donna Hoke ponders these questions in her new, very funny, made-for-Buffalo play, Once in My Life: A Buffalo Football Fantasy. She has captured the angst, wit, sarcasm and hunger of the long-suffering Bills fan in this ninety-minute foray into “What if…” The laughs come often and loud, the audience recognizing their own Bills misery in this motley crew of never-say-die and seldom optimistic fans on stage.
The setting is a local Bills bar called Miracle, run for the last fifteen years by a Bills-and-world weary woman Lyn (Josie DiVincenzo) who longs for Florida and her grandchildren but is holding on to honor her deceased husband’s dying wish for “a miracle.” Her bartender Ty (Jake Hayes) arrives bemoaning his job. As her regulars wander in before the game, we meet estranged buddies Al (Kinzy Brown) and George (Aaron Krygier), long-time fans who had a mysterious disagreement and are no longer speaking. They spar with each other in a sarcastic I’m-not-speaking-to-you fashion as Ethan (Adam Hayes), a would-be magician arrives with his magic rings and nervous energy. A bit later, a wealthy couple Belinda Sue (Diane DiBernardo) and P.T. (Jon May) enter the bar, she with a sparkly new diamond bracelet to show her old school chum, Lyn, and kvetch about the absurdity of people being so upset about a football team. As they all converse, we learn a bit about each of them as well as their hopes and fears and disappointments about the Bills. It is a cozy group, used to and comfortable with each other, even with the sarcasm and pessimism directed toward each other and their beloved team. Then Willy (Kyle Baran), a stranger, arrives in a Bills jersey, orders a boilermaker, and makes himself at home. What was comfortable begins to become less so, and “What if…” takes center stage.
The actors all handle their roles well. Diane DiBernardo as Belinda Sue–and what do her initials stand for?–is sexy and happy with her material girl self, basking in the glitter of her diamonds. Kinzy Brown and Adam Krygier as the feuding friends play off each other with gusto. Adam Hayes as the shy and fearful Ethan effectively pulls on the audience’s heartstrings. Josie DiVincenzo keeps them all together in her quiet matriarchal manner, refereeing arguments, cajoling the miserable, and revealing her frustration with her situation.
Director Victoria Perez does a fine job of pacing this fantasy/comedy. She moves her actors around the bar very naturally, and the timing is excellent for the witty and clever dialogue. One scene between Al and George goes on a bit too long but is very funny and heartwarming nonetheless.
The set designed by Paul Bostaph is a perfect replica of a slightly seedy, old-time sports bar, with Bills memorabilia everywhere. It is so realistic you can almost smell stale beer and the discontent of the patrons.
Once in My Lifetime: A Buffalo Football Fantasy is very entertaining and a play that Bills fans can relate to personally, a very important aspect of the evening’s entertainment. The audience cheered and also felt the pain of dreams dashed. All fans have experienced the angst that is portrayed on stage, as well as the hope for a better future. While Ms. Hoke may have tied up all the loose ends a bit too tidily, this is, after all, a fantasy and we all wish for a happy ending, in football and in life.
You can see Once in My Lifetime: A Buffalo Football Fantasy at Shea’s Smith Theatre until September 8th. Come in full Bills regalia!