5 Reasons Why American Buffalo Has Lost its Luster
By: Iris Wiener
May 23, 2022: David Mamet’s work is notably controversial and quite often meant to rile up liberal audiences. His characters’ dialogue is famously riddled with harsh, quick profanity, and holds its viewers’ attention at every turn. With the Broadway revival of American Buffalo now playing at Circle in the Square Theatre, this reviewer saw very little of either of these traits. In fact, she felt very little of anything. The play concerns three small-time hustlers who want a bigger cut of the American dream. It premiered on Broadway in 1977, receiving the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play, and has since been revived a number of times, yet one can’t help but question its appeal. This is this critic’s first time experiencing American Buffalo, and here are five reasons as to why this will most likely be her last:
1. This production was sorely miscast. Laurence Fishburne’s Don, who owns a mid-70s junk shop somewhere in the seedier part of Chicago, plays mentor to the naïve Bobby. When a customer buys a buffalo nickel that Don had deemed worthless, the men come up with a shoddy plan to steal it back. Fishburne lumbers around the stage as though he is trying to play the stereotypical Italian thug. His speech patterns and lilt are frustrating and rehearsed, both qualities that hinder the play’s accessibility.
2. Darren Criss is a fish out of water from the moment the play opens, as he laboriously plays Don’s errand boy Bobby. His mega-watt smile and boy-bander appearance make him too pretty and strait-laced for the seedy role.
3. The set is a character in itself, a hodgepodge of junk that is overwhelming in scope and distracting at every turn. Filled with footballs, lamps, magazines, old cash registers, boxing gloves, tennis rackets, hats and a plethora of other items, it’s a hoarder’s dream. Unfortunately, as the theater is in the round, the set is more of a hindrance than a wonder. At times it covers the audience’s view of the actors. Viewers will often find themselves visually exploring the mountains of junk, rather than focusing on the complex dialogue.
4. The only action comes in outbursts of anger and a climactic fight scene that is akin to a Saturday Night Live sketch- awkward in its structure and in its result. The phenomenal Sam Rockwell’s Teach, one of the store’s employees and the most interesting, layered character, can’t even save this play from its lame resolution.
5. Instead of the language being meaty and razor-sharp, it’s lost amid director Neil Pepe’s drab execution, so much so that the plot becomes muddled and difficult to interpret. When you leave a play asking yourself, “What was the point of that?,” there most likely wasn’t one to be found. Perhaps it was hidden among the junk.
Circle in the Square, 1633 Broadway, NYC.
Tuesday 7 p.m., Wednesday 2 p.m. & 8 p.m., Thursday 7 p.m., Friday 8 p.m., Saturday 2 p.m. & 8 p.m., Sunday 3 p.m.
Running time: 100 minutes including intermission.
Photography: Richard Termine