BWW Review: Seattle Immersive Theatre's AMERICAN BUFFALO Amps Up the Danger
David Mamet's "American Buffalo" has never been what you might call a comfortable play laced as it is with profanity, crime, and violence. If done well the tension in Don's 2ns Hand Store should continue to build and build until it predictably results in chaos. But what Seattle Immersive Theatre has done with their current production is to not only give the audience some top-notch performances of the show but also put us all right there in the shop so the danger is not only palpable but at arm's reach.
Donny's (Eric Ray Anderson) shop is a good place for a certain element of the neighborhood to come hang out. He takes care of his friends like young Bobby (Randall Scott Carpenter), he plays poker with the guys such as the volatile Teach (Jon Stutzman) and when he's not selling various antiques and curiosities, he's helping plan a crime or two. So, when a certain buffalo head nickel is purchased from his shop by a local businessman, Donny thinks this man may have even more valuable items in his collection that he and Bobby can break in and steal. But when Teach hears of the plan he weasels his way in to get his cut of the take. But even the best laid plans can run into some road blocks especially with a hot head like Teach involved.
Director Joshua Jon and Scenic Designer Paul Thomas have taken this former frame shop in Ballard and transformed it into a den of kitsch and curios with a brilliant 70's air. With seats placed throughout the shop surrounding the central table where most of the action takes place, this is where the "immersion" of their moniker comes into play. I've seen a few productions over the years but never felt so part of the environment before. Maybe not involved in the crime but definitely a fly on the wall and definitely wanting to stay out of Teach's way. And Jon has instilled a beautiful build of the piece as we get to know the fellas and watch the pot get hotter and hotter until it all boils over.
The trio of actors in the piece are certainly one tight ensemble, each one completely present with the others in the space and each invested in their own intent as well as each other's. Anderson makes for a wonderful Donny as he appears to be the caretaker of the group only to show his own dangerous side when the need arises. Carpenter takes Bobby to a stunning place, much more than just an innocent kid, you can see the damage he's put himself through in his short life and the toll it's taken but still retains the childlike need for approval. And Stutzman brought into Teach some things I've never noticed before. Sure, he's a bully and a con man and an all-around slimy and unsafe guy but he too kept showing off an undertone of needing to be liked and respected to an almost pathological level which fed beautifully into his temperament.
Kudos to Seattle Immersive Theatre for managing to amp up the menacing nature of an already menacing play and the addition of actually being able to shop in Don's store made for a delightful bonus. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Seattle Immersive Theatre's "American Buffalo" a slightly scared YAY. Just be sure to sit where they tell you to sit and keep to yourself and you'll be fine.
"American Buffalo" from Seattle Immersive Theatre performs at "Don's 2nd Hand Store" in Ballard through November 19th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattleimmersivetheatre.org.