BWW Reviews: AMERICAN BUFFALO, Wyndham's Theatre, April 27 2015
American Buffalo (continuing at Wyndham's Theatre until 17 June) takes us into Don's junkshop (Paul Wills' magnificent Steptoe on steroids set) and into the lives of three men who circle each other, weighing each other's words, seeking advantage (or its close cousin, the absence of disadvantage).
Don owns the store, looking to make the occasional dodgy deal, a Del-Boy without the gift of the gab. "Teach" is a poker buddy, the kind of petty criminal who might sell some intel to Starsky and Hutch (we're in Chicago 1975 after all). Bob is a junkie who needs the cash all junkies need, but also the love of these men or their card sharp friends - or anyone really.
When Don sells a rare coin to a customer who seemed very keen to acquire it, he fancies re-acquiring it to sell it again (for rather more) on the black market and calls upon the services of Teach and Bob to effect this domestic heist. As they talk, the boundaries between friendship and business blur, trust is broken and repaired and the value of money is gauged against the value of love.
There are megawatts of star power on stage to illuminate the tale. Damian Lewis gets the edgy movements and voice of Teach perfectly, never allowing us to feel at ease in his presence. There's charm too, but most of it is hidden behind a bolshy veneer that protects him from ever getting too close to anyone for fear of owing them anything. Tom Sturridge has the heroin chic thing going well, managing to pull off the considerable coup of mumbling clearly enough to be heard throughout the theatre. John Goodman is the ballast between these men who live for the next injection of cash, a reluctant crook, a man who thinks the best of people and is, in consequence, disappointed more often than not.
It's early David Mamet so it's important and serious (though humour weaves in and out of the text) and it's a Classic Of American Theatre, its reputation burnished over its forty-year lifespan - but (whisper it) it's just a bit dull. The three men talk and talk and talk, but we never really warm to them, never really care enough to root for a goodie vs a baddie, never really wonder how the men got there and what will happen next. Technically excellent, historically significant and beautifully staged it may be, but it's a bit of a relief when the lights go out and we can hear someone else's voice.