Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 22, 2009

American Buffalo

TheaterWorks, Hartford, Connecticut
through October 25
by Jarice Hanson

"American Buffalo" premiered in 1975, and catapulted David Mamet to fame as one of the most earthy, funny, and intense playwrights of the era. The plot is simple; three guys from Chicago see an opportunity to make an easy buck, but as they hatch their plot, everything falls apart. The three characters are what makes the play compelling; they represent archetypes that reflect American male anger, frustration, and fallibility that emerged in the mid-'70s, as a backlash to the women’s movement. Though billed as a comedy, when well-played, the sadness of people trapped by their own limitations gives the characters greater depth.

In TheaterWorks' production, the actors explore their characters beautifully. Donny, owner of a junk shop (played with excellent control by John Ahlin); Bobby, the slow-witted drug addict, who serves as surrogate son to Donny (portrayed by Zachary Spicer, a young actor with tremendous physicality); and Teach, who delivers some of Mamet’s best lines, like, “The only way to teach these people is to kill them” (powerfully played by Andrew Benator, whose commitment to character is astounding) deliver a production that roars with testosterone and human fallibility.

Director Steve Campo allows Mamet’s dialog to shine; and the set, designed by Adrian W. Jones, and the subtle, effective lighting by Matthew Richards in the intimate TheaterWorks space, seems to encourage the audience to eavesdrop on the ill-fated petty crooks. At the play’s conclusion, the audience, leapt to a standing ovation, but as good as the opening night show was, it will undoubtedly get stronger as these three capable actors find the subtle peaks and valleys in Mamet’s multi-layered script. While it would have been helpful tohear some good, strong Chicago accents to punctuate Mamet’s dialog for a strong sense of place, "American Buffalo" is an actor’s play, and TheaterWorks is delivering Mamet’s work in fine form.