The Ridgelea Reports on Theatre

"American Buffalo " at TheaterWorks Hartford

You might think that all three of the zany characters in David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” had just listened to their president admonishing them to keep an eye on the goal, work hard, and if you make mistakes try again until you succeed. For try again they certainly do. Donny runs a somewhat successful pawn shop (anyway he seems to have money in his pocket). Bobby, whose combination of attention span deficit and bumbling IQ give him a heart-breaking challenge, is his loyal protégé. And Teach - a self only understood within his own mind - is an opportunist who redefines and keeps on climbing even as the walls get higher.

What they have in common is an extended family of other odd characters, defined in the script but never seen on stage, and a belief in the future. The immediate future. They represent that special place in the human psyche that looks to tomorrow as ‘the day in which I will be my real (successful) self’. So there is a level of intense motivation for finding the right moves that will make this night’s work succeed.

And although the audience is quickly aware that the plan, or plans, they are making for what seems to be the theft of someone else’s coin collection, could not possibly work, indeed we follow every move with fascination. “Suppose he has a safe?” ask’s Donny, referring to the man they think has just left town for the weekend. “We’ll find the combination,” says Teach. “What if he didn’t write it down?”  “Of course, he wrote it down... and where do you think he put it?” “...in his wallet?” “Yeah,” Teach beams. To experience Andrew Benator’s character work as Teach is a priceless thrill. Each movement, funnier than the last, is packed full of frenetic confidence, and, after he has totally wrecked the pawn shop and its occupants in the last scene, his touching “Are you mad at me?” to Donny (John Ahlin) reveals an intimacy that more logical lives may long for. “No,” says Donny... “go get your car.” In that moment, while Donny embraces a wounded Bobby (Zachary Spicer), the whole meaning of this madness resolves into one of a family that takes responsibility for each other, as best we can.

Like the president said.

Go, go, go to see this wacky comedy, with its three wonderful actors, an unbelievable set, and the magic of Steve Campos’s direction. Tickets and information at www.theaterworksHartford.com

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports 

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