David Mamet’s “American Buffalo,” which first opened on Broadway in 1977 to critical acclaim, is the story of three would-be thieves who set their sights on stealing an expensive coin collection, specifically a Buffalo nickel, and the preparations they undergo leading up to the theft. That’s it, the premise for the entire play. It’s not deep or action packed, rather a character study of a very specific subset of people, and in typical “Mamet Speak” the dialogue is choppy, repetitive, profane and accentuated by the occasional long-winded rant. If done poorly, it can be one of the most painful theatre-going experiences you will encounter. If done well, it is nothing short of brilliant. The Geffen Playhouse’s newest production, directed by Randall Arney, is done very well.
The play takes place in Don’s Resale Shop, and set designer Takeshi Kata does a masterful job of piling and cramming odds and ends into every little nook and cranny available. At first glance all that can be seen are mounds of junk, but upon closer inspection an organization emerges that can only be born from years and years of living in a space. It looks as if someone went into my grandfather’s garage and opened it up for business. The rain effect in the second act is also handled very well, and reminds the audience that this is not a well kept building as the awning/gutter directly over the door has a leak that sends a heavy stream of water over anybody that is coming or going.
However, the most notable aspects of this production are the nuanced and genuine performances by the cast. Freddy Rodriguez, as Bob, hardly says a thing, and then will speak a paragraph with a look, or stutter in his drug-addled mannerisms. Bill Smitrovich, as Don Dubrow the owner of the junk shop, does an excellent job as the straight man. He maintains a fatherly patience to the antics going on around him, but like any good father puts his foot down when things get out of hand in the second act. Rounding out the trio is Ron Eldard who is magnificent as Teach, a down and out man that very much resembles a wounded animal with salvation in sight. However, when that salvation is taken away his breakdown is at once raw, dangerous and beautiful to behold.
This cast is a must see. All three men manage to deliver note-worthy performances without ever upstaging their counter-parts. They keep the pacing up with a great rhythm and patter to the dialogue, creating several laugh-out-load moments. The bit with the newspaper at the end is still making me laugh. That being said, this is not a play for all audiences. There are enough F-bombs dropped in Teach’s first speech alone to make the audience of a rap concert blush. But if that doesn’t bother you, it is fan-f***ing-tastic.
*Coverage provided for the Culver City News