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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 19, 2000. All rights reserved.
Broadway Review: `American Buffalo’
E-mail: Simon Saltzman@princetoninfo.com
As good as it gets is what you get in the production
of David Mamet’s "American Buffalo," at the Mamet-founded
Atlantic Theater Company. This is a terrific staging by Neil Pepe,
the Atlantic’s artistic director. "Buffalo’s" return for a
fourth time to a New York stage is marked by three actors who bring
a conspiratorial edge of the unexpected to the 24-year-old play about
three lame-brained losers who, one rainy Chicago night, plan to pull
off a robbery.
Grab this opportunity to see William H. Macy, a true Mamet disciple,
tackle the role of the unstable and explosive Teach, a far cry from
the role of the young stooge Bobby he played in the world premiere
of "Buffalo" in the Goodman Theater production in Chicago
in 1975. The actor, who created roles in several of Mamet’s original
productions, including the film version of "Oleanna," gives
another hyper-intense performance as Teach, the stunningly inept hoodlum
whose feigned literacy is no barrier to his stupidity. For pure fun,
Macy’s quirky performance is as loony and unpredictable as was the
Academy Award-nominated performance he gave in the movie "Fargo."
Playing opposite Macy, and taking his first stab at Mamet as Donny,
the owner of a junk shop with larceny on his mind, is Philip Baker
Hall. Hall, whose craggy features, slow burning responses, and cement-mixer
voice are balanced against Macy’s wide-eyed gaze, volatile behavior,
and rat-a-tat-tat philosophizing, brings his own unsettling edge to
this botched, would-be caper. Making his professional theatrical debut
is Mark Webber, who is not only confident, but also consistently surprising
as Bobby, Donny’s dense apprentice.
To watch and listen to these actors, as three petty
crooks who spend more time reacting to each other than enacting their
plan to steal a coin collection, is to appreciate Mamet at his most
audacious and scabrous. For audiences who saw the recent "Glengarry
Glen Ross" production at McCarter Theater, this earlier play is
equally ripe with the once raw (now al dente) language that
propels the characters, their puerile behavior, and petty scheme.
Possibly because the dialogue is no longer shocking, the situation,
their actions, and indeed, their incessant banter is quite funny,
ferociously street-smart, and even intentionally dopey.
The awesome floor to ceiling collection of debris, discards, broken-down
furniture, and tacky memorabilia, which designer Kevin Rigdon has
created like a nightmarish architectural wonder to resemble a low-rent
neighborhood junk shop, is only second in organized chaos to the three
dregs of humanity who inhabit it. Though certainly less shocking in
its use of four and seven-letter expletives than it must have seemed
the first time, Mamet’s play remains provocative and intriguing.
Within the framework of their ruthless code of honor, these crooks
also subtly and unwittingly explore the importance of loyalty, friendship,
and the need for love even among society’s low life. While the play
courses the incompetence of Teach, the junk shop owner, and his young
sidekick, in their muddling middle-of-the-night escapade, it is the
detailed idiosyncrasies of these pathetic characters that is the heart
of the matter. That the actors get it all so right makes this another
reason why "American Buffalo" is far from becoming extinct.
This Neil Pepe staging of "American Buffalo" was a success
at London’s Donmar Playhouse before coming to New York. "Buffalo,"
in spite of an unsuccessful first round in 1977 (and winner of the
New York Drama Critics award for Best Play), with the highly acclaimed
Robert Duvall, also caught the fancy of Al Pacino, who not only starred
in the well received Off-Broadway production in 1981 but repeated
his role on Broadway in 1983. Whether you choose to consider this
production of "American Buffalo" the definitive one is less
important than that it succeeds in defining and refining the lot of
three of dramatic literature’s most irrepressible losers. HHH
— Simon Saltzman
Street, New York, 212-645-1242. $45. Through May 21.
through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. For Ticketmaster
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For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,
and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing
arts hotline operated by the Theater Development Fund.
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