The Romans never forget the greatness that was Rome. Camelot lives in the legend, even if it never existed. But Buffalo has amnesia. We too easily forget a time when our city was the glory of America.
Most school kids at least know that Buffalo had a canal and a mule named Sal, thanks to the old song, and that’s an important point. The reputation of cities is maintained as much by the arts as by history books. Yes, New York is a big city. Paris is a big city. And Hollywood and some of the greatest artists in the world have made sure we all know it.
Playwright James A. Marzo obviously has a great affection for this city and wrote a play set in Buffalo the year before the canal opened. In “Something Wicked”, Marzo shows us 1824 Buffalo as a rather hectic and tumbled town on the eve of its huge boom. It was a time when opportunists abounded. There were so many ways to make money and so many ways to waste money.
Marzo recounts the events leading up to Buffalo’s only public execution in what WNY’s American Repertory Theater accurately presents as “a Buffalo tale of deception, murder and doom.” This event, almost forgotten today, has been talked about for decades and drew 30,000 spectators at a time when Buffalo’s population was only around 2,000.
Meet the dysfunctional Thayer family, three brothers with a farm, but no talent for farming. They do, however, have a knack for drinking, playing and fighting. The older brother, Nelson, is a violent tyrant. The middle brother, Israel, is fundamentally weak. Only the youngest, Isaac, makes sense. When their mindless dealings ultimately put them too deeply in debt, Nelson concludes that they have no choice but to commit murder.