By: Paulanne Simmons
Perhaps David Mamet and his plays are an acquired taste. If this is true, I am one reviewer who has never acquired that taste.
May 13, 2022: American Buffalo, which opened at Circle in the Square Theatre April 14, features two of our finest actors as the drama’s small-time hustlers, Laurence Fishburne as Donny, and Sam Rockwell as Teach. And the up-and-coming Darren Criss does an admirable job as Bobby, Donny’s junkshop assistant.
What’s more, the play is directed by Neil Pepe, the acclaimed artistic director of Atlantic Theater Company, whose impressive resume includes the Broadway revival of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow, as well as Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre. And the award-winning set designer, Scott Pask, has created a junkshop set that would drive any compulsive hoarder into paroxysms of joy.
It should work. But Mamet keeps getting in the way.
As the play opens, Donny is experiencing seller’s regret, convinced the buffalo nickel he just sold for $90 may be worth a lot more. He plans to steal it back, with the help of Bobby, who says he has seen the customer leaving his home with a suitcase, which he assumes means he is going away for the weekend.
But then Teach arrives. He is a man with many grievances but not much by way of brains. He insists the job is too big for Donny, and he, Teach, should be entrusted with the work. Donny agrees, provided their other poker buddy, Fletcher (who Teach maintains is not a good card player but a cheat), be part of the heist.
Bobby wanders in and out of the shop, mostly trying to please Donny, who is something of a father figure, concerned with Bobby’s health and future. He even manages to buy another buffalo nickel with money he has borrowed from Donny. But Donny and Teach are suspicious.
Donny and Teach spend most of their time cursing, yelling and arguing over their hairbrained scheme. Teach’s language is particularly misogynist and racist. Eventually Teach reaches the boiling point, fights with Donny, seriously injures Bobby and trashes the junk shop.
No doubt, this country is filled with intellectually challenged lowlife who have never achieved the American dream. One suspects many of them speak just like Teach and Donny. How this play helps us understand them is another question. Nevertheless, if you think the characters and dialogue Mamet has created represent American society or make important comments on American society, American Buffalo is for you. Otherwise stay home and watch TV.
American Buffalo is at Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 West 50 Street, until July 10, 2022. Photography: Richard Termine