Broadway review by Adam Feldman
The would-be predators of the urban jungle in David Mamet’s 1975 American Buffalo are far from apex-level. Donny (Laurence Fishburne) runs a cluttered junk shop, with an eye out for possible scams on the side; young Bobby (Darren Criss), a dim bulb verging on burnout, acts as his gofer; and Teach (a terrific Sam Rockwell) is the kind of wanna-be hustler who fakes it till he takes it on the chin. (When he loses at poker, he assumes that everyone else must have cheated.) In Mamet’s engaging look at the bluffs and insecurities of American masculinity, these three men are meant to be collaborating on a coin heist, but none of them knows what he’s doing, much less what anyone else is doing. That leaves a lot of vacuum to be filled with bluster, paranoia, phony acumen and the playwright’s trademark rat-a-tat rhythms.
Directed by Neil Pepe with the expert eye for appraisal that the characters lack, this production is vastly superior to American Buffalo’s last Broadway incarnation, which ran briefly back in 2008. The play itself, which marked Mamet’s breakthrough, is as thin as a dime, but it’s got great atmospherics. Scott Pask’s set and Dede Ayite’s costumes plunge us into the shabby world of the action; seated around the thrust stage at Circle in the Square, the audience can almost smell the mix of dirt and desperation. Although not much happens in the play, which is less a thriller than a loiterer, it somehow seems fast-paced, thanks in large part to the three crack performers who bring it to life. They stride the stage with the game confidence of actors who know exactly how to make Mamet’s monte look full.
American Buffalo. Circle in the Square Theatre (Broadway). By David Mamet. Directed by Neil Pepe. With Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne, Darren Criss. Running time: 1hr 40mins. One intermission.