BWW Reviews: Mamet's Legacy of AMERICAN BUFFAFO Endures at APT
The distinguished experience of Director Kenneth Albers returns to American Players Theatre (APT) in rural Spring Green for David Mamet's multiple award winning play, American Buffalo. First produced in 1975, the three person drama fills the indoor Touchstone Theater with the talents of Brian Mani, James Ridge and Brendan Meyer in perhaps one of the most poetic uses of profanity heard and placed on stage.
The profanity in part represents the language and struggling personalities of the three characters, Donny, Teach and Bobby, would be thieves, who plan to steal a coin collection from a customer who entered Donny's Resale Shop. A place where if "someone kept all the things they threw out, they'd be a rich man," also beautifully detailed by Scenic Designer Liz Freese, rich with worn and weary consumer goods that society buys and then easily tosses away, including a rarity, a buffalo nickel.
One of Donny's customers discovered a buffalo head nickel, a coin only minted by the United States government from 1913-1938 at three places in the country. The unusual design featured an American Indian on one side, and an American Buffalo on the other. While some years during this minting period were extremely valuable in 1975, other nickels were worth less than nothing, which holds true for collectors today. Some buffalo head nickels hold a value close to $100,000 dollars, others $2.40 in 2014.
Since Donny assumes he sold a valuable buffalo nickel for less than the true value, he plans to steal the nickel and perhaps the rest of the collection from the customer who lives around the corner with the assistance of his two accomplices, an older poker friend companion Teach, and the younger novice, Bobby.
Mani embodies the reserved appearing owner of the shop, Donny, who watches over the younger Bobby, a sensitive Brendan Meyer who almost personifies innocence in his honesty and trust of the two men. However, the manic personality, often on overdrive, in this play of the charismatic James Ridge strutting and strolling through the shop, sitting in forsaken wheelchairs, and peering through windows at the police as Teach, often goads his friend Donny into actions, whether wanted or not.
Teach's hyperactivity complements the steadfast loyalty Mani imparts to his character who manages the profitable resale shop, in his dealings with Teach, whether Donny's intelligence accompanies his knowing how to plan an actual robbery. The robbery of the coins to be done on this very evening and supposedly scouted out by the inexperienced Bobby, and in sight just around the corner from Donny's shop.
Donny believes to do business, "People need to take care of themselves...using common sense, talent and experience...the three qualities he states necessary to making any business succeed." Or perhaps better understood when friends agree, if they can trust one another, "Actions talk, bullshit walks."
Life's gritty underbelly, day-to-day survival on the edge, portrayed in Mamet's play also uncovers a humorous side explored by Director Albers. Mamet's philosophies run with ironic undercurrents, a melancholy comedy, the audience laughs at. Add in to the mix Bobby's naiveté, a youthful optimism that touches Donny's heart instead of the mistrust Teach holds inside, and the production runs riff with fast and loose emotions coming from all directions that ends in an explosive last scene.
Mamet's slice of life in a resale shop changes very little since 1975, and perhaps resonates more with audiences who have experienced decreased incomes and jobs outsourced since 2002, in the past decade, another great recession several years ago, and the continual use of child or cheap labor to make goods and services the least expensive possible and increase profit margins in today's stressful business environment.
Trinkets of consumerism and technology are now disposed of at alarming rates, enough to fill hundreds of Donny's resale shops, with scant concern to who suffers. All that matters is to be in the black when spread sheets post the bottom line. Who cares about future generations who will deal with the aftereffects of this disposal society and how America does business? The people like Bobby, trusting and vulnerable, and often at risk of getting hurt, left at the side of society. Injured, almost destroyed, when the wrath of Teach in Mamet's play hits him full force while Bobby spoke the truth and then was told he lied.
This important, intense play, layered with profane language, endures with a critical message captured by APT'S portrayal of Mamet's poignant and often hidden characters on society's margins. A drama illustrating the less favorable elements to America's business legacy that asks how capitalism survives and what will this ideal lead to in the future? How much have economics changed in the last half- century and where are they headed?
APT's American Buffalo energizes this ongoing conversation, a theatrical experience that challenges audiences to rethink these cultural ideals, a country's economic dreams. So humanity will avoid being overrun for purposes of mere profit as the Indians and Buffaloes perhaps were in this country, the once proud inhabitnats, now only symbols gracing a piece of currency, a simple silver nickel.