Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

American Buffalo

By David Mamet

American Buffalo by Mamet
American Buffalo

Directed by Amy Morton

At Steppenwolf Main Stage Theatre

Strong performances launch Mamet’s American Buffalo

Don: “Well Bob, I’m sorry, but this isn’t good enough. If you want to do business. . .if we got a business deal it isn’t good enough. I want you to remember this”.
Bobby:” I do”
Don: “Yeah, now. . .but later, what? (Pause.) Just one thing, Bob. Action counts. (Pause.) Action talks and bullshit walk.“

Don to Bobby: “ There’s business and there’s friendship, Bobby. There are many things, and when you walk around you hear a lot of things, and what you got to do is keep clear who your friends are, and who treated you like what, or else the rest is garbage, because things are not always what they seem to be”

David Mamet’s 1975 American Buffalo is a tour de force vehicle for the three characters and director Amy Morton has cast quite well with Tracy Letts as Teach, Francis Gunian as Donny and Patrick Andrews as Bob.  This, indeed, is an ‘actors’ show’ as the above eked out all of the dark humor and pathos David Mamet intended.  Mamet is know as a “language playwright” in that he has an ear for the language, the cadence, and the rhythms of common man’s speech. Filled with incomplete sentences, half thoughts flowered with obscenities that change meanings with slight tone inflections, Mamet’s dialogue has crude poetic flavor that is both funny and pathetic.

American Buffalo by Mamat

The setting is Chicago in a basement junk shop (terrific set design by Kevin Depinet) run by Don, played with in under stated turn by Francis Guinan–who is a treasure of a great actor. He is giving lessons on business tactics to the slow-witted junkie hustler Bob played effectively by Patrick Andrews. One of the themes Mamet deals with here is the conflict between business matters and friendship that gets confused as the losers never understand why life treats them so harshly.

American Buffalo by Mamat

Don has sold an American Buffalo nickel coin to a customer for $90 but he now feels that he got suckered by the collector and he vows to steal back that coin and the entire collection from the mark. Bob is being recruited to break into  the collectors apartment on Lake Shore Drive. However, Teach played with terrific intensity by Tracy Letts, arrives at the junk shop in time to overhear don’s planning with Bob.  He uses a combination of guilt, pressure and intimation to get don to drop Bob and include him as the leader of the heist. The banter between Don and Teach is precious Mamet containing his naturalistic speech cadence and the convoluted logic that losers use to justify their urges.

As the heist unravels, we witness the frustration Dan and especially Teach exhibits when they realize that another get rich scheme has eluded them.  Ruled by their emotions, their nasty, stupid guys exude menace while they struggle for identity, dominance and wealth.

Letts, Guinan and Andrews give emotionally deep performances as they deftly articulate Mamet’s language while encompassing the truthfulness of these losers. The acting far surpasses the writing that seems a tad dated except for those who have never seen this classic work. The power, emotion, and pathos of these guys rings true. This show is a graduate course in acting and elocution.


Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

At Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St, Chicago, IL, call 312-335-1650, tickets $20 – $77,Tuesdays thru Sundays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays & Sunday matinees at 3 pm, Wednesday matinees at 2 pm, running time is 1 hour, 45 minutes with intermission, through February14, 2010

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