It’s been nearly 40 years since David Mamet pounced onto the stage with his salty verbosity in American Buffalo. Since then he’s acquired a major rep for showing tough guys in screwy schemes, wheeling and dealing like all get out.
The production at Blue Barn, superbly directed by Susan Clement-Toberer encapsulates that essence, with a rock solid cast socking it to us definitively, simmering with personality and punching out quite a few knockout laughs. Bleeping A.
Clement-Toberer has tuned this little mother into something dynamic and underpinningly funny, getting her actors to take themselves completely seriously. The right attitude. She has also done wonders to point up contrasts between the two main characters. She’s made sure that Teach is some kind of a wild pinball. He slams into every corner. He bounces. He swerves. He careens. A chair for him is a jumping off spot, not a place to cool his heels. For Donny, though, a chair is a command post where he sits in the center of the action, urgently trying to keep control.
On the surface this story doesn’t seem to have all that much to tell. Unless you consider that it’s a study of low-life personalities. Mamet goes for revelation, not resolution. The characters have depth, but they don’t know that.
In a grimy corner of Chicago, Donny Dubrow deals in junk and other stuff that people might want to buy. Yeah, if the price is OK. After a customer pays big bucks for an evidently valuable buffalo nickel, Donny figures it’s worth more than he got for it. He plans, with vulnerable, confused young Bobby, to stage a break-in into that guy’s place and steal it back plus whatever else’s worth heisting. Walter (Teach) Cole thinks Bobby will louse it up. Teach always thinks he knows better about everything. And he’s in a lousy mood. He needs big action to take the edge off. Plus, it bugs him that Donny has some kind of a soft spot for Bobby
When the plan gets screwed up, this thing turns really funny, especially with Teach exploding almost to the rafters without a clue about where he’s going to land.
Thomas Becker’s explosive take on Teach remains an intense tour de force. Pow. Right in the kisser. At the same time Jerry Longe’s playing of Donny stays phenomenally grounded, no less intense but firmly in charge of the territory. Jonathan Purcell’s take on Bobby has all that it needs, a sorrowful portrait of vulnerability and confusion.
Plus you’re bound to get a kick out of Martin Scott Marchitto’s set along with Amy Reiner’s filling it with an amazing bunch of worthless crap.
Mamet gets zilch background coverage in the program book. Sure, you’re most likely familiar with his name. But you might like to know that American Buffalo made its 1975 debut at Goodman Theatre in Mamet’s home town of Chicago. It was his sixth play, preceded, among others, by the well-known Sexual Perversity in Chicago. Buffalo won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play of the 1977 season and the 1976 Obie Award for best new play. There were several Tony nominations for it as well as for the 1983 Broadway production starring Al Pacino as Teach. Dustin Hoffman had the same role in the 1996 movie. More at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Mamet#Theater.
Buddy, you gotta see this. Like the nickel in the middle, it’s worth a bundle. Expletive right!
American Buffalo plays through October 25 at Blue Barn Theatre 614 S. 11th St. Omaha. Thurs-Sat: 7:30 p.m. Sun: 6 p.m. Tickets: $25-$30. Info at www.bluebarn.org