by Melanie N. Lee · August 27, 2015
After viewing The Buffalo and talking to its creator, I wanted to exclaim, “What the blankety-blank is wrong with us? How could anyone read in the Bible words about love, forgiveness, mercy, and justice, and do stuff like this—and to children?!”
Anthony Sneed, writer and solo performer of The Buffalo (directed by Tom Delgado), tells of harrowing experiences with family, school, and a dubiously Christian compound. A native New Jerseyan, part Italian and part Cherokee, Anthony is the product of two unmarried teens who have since suffered from arrested development. His father Mike, or “Rocky”, “dazzled you, then disappeared.” His single mother, who keeps a gun in the house, once dated her son’s classmate’s older brother.
Anthony’s bleached-blond hair and FUBU outfits impress no one at middle school. His artistic endeavors—a beautifully-crafted owl clock, flared JNCO jeans, a cartoon-illustrated lusty letter to a girl—only get him into trouble. Desperate to impress his peers, Anthony sneaks his mother’s gun to school, which another student commandeers to hold up the school bus. Rocky yells at Anthony: “The only mistake I ever made was being a teenager when I had you! …Hey, I’m sorry…” Mom sends the 14-year-old boy to live with his Uncle Rick and Aunt Trina at the Heartland Christian Community in Bethel, Missouri.
During assembly at Heartland, Principal Beavis and Pastor Sharpe display a huge sign—“OBEDIENCE: a gift of God”—and a huge spanking paddle (legal in Missouri). Uncle Rick forbids any secular material except Damon Wayans’ film Major Payne (about a tough man disciplining wayward kids) because “guns and military are Christian; it says so in the Bible.” Anthony’s aping of rap stars and his impression of Major Payne amuse his teen co-workers Tex and Curtis at the compound’s dairy farm—but the administrators object. Beavis and Sharpe pressure Anthony into conversion, complete with a slap to the head. (“That’s how I got saved: a bruised forehead.”) Minor infractions earn huge punishments, such as the “brown baptism” and the “reverse resurrection”. Discipline is synonymous with torture. Curtis laments, “Sometimes I think Jesus is the only one who loves me, and I can’t even see him.”
Sneed amazingly portrays a myriad of characters with depth and conviction. He contorts his expressive, elastic face like an ever-changing mask, and contorts his voice as well. He raps Wu-Tang and T-Bone with expertise, and he sings well. He displays, both on screen and in his hands, the cartooned letter and the owl with the clock around its neck “like Flavor Flav”.
Now his father mentions buffalo out West, and Anthony sees a buffalo within the story, but what does the title “The Buffalo” mean to the play’s theme or plot? Did Sneed mean “buffaloed”, as in tricked? Does it evoke his Native American background, which I didn’t hear mentioned during the show? Also, Sneed doesn’t demonstrate how he transformed from being a people pleaser to being himself.
Nevertheless, The Buffalo is a fascinating, gut-wrenching work about the human need to dominate and enslave others—sometimes in the name of God—and the human desire to fit in, no matter what. It also shows how institutions that should edify us—family, school, church—can choose to terrorize us instead.