Theatre Mirror Reviews - "American Buffalo"

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entire contents copyright 1997 by Beverly Creasey

Money Talks
at New Repertory Theatre

by Beverly Creasey

"American Buffalo" is without doubt David Mamet's best play. It should have won the Pulitzer instead of "Glengarry Glen Ross" but the committee was a bit slow to realize the coup Mamet had staged ith a little sleight of hand and a lot of poetry. The poetry in Mamet's seeingly crass dialogue is what makes this searing portrait of three lowlife hoodlums soar. Rhythm is everything in "American Buffalo."

The buffalo nickel which sets the play in motion got away from Donny (Ken Baltin) when he was outsmarted by a savvy coin collector ... or at least he thinks the man pulled a fast one. And scamming is Donny's bailiwick. He and his friends don't like being conned, and they're going to get even by stealing back the nickel.

The sheer beauty of Mamet's play is that we know it wouldn't take much to out-maneuver these penny ante operators. Yet you have to respect their commitment to a job and to each other. Teach (Michael Cecchi) even has highfalutin theories about larceny and there's nothing petty about them. He's a gutter philosopher who worries about the breakdown of "social customs". Bless his criminal heart, he hasn't clue that he and his buddies are society's problem. They're sociopaths who imagine the rest of us are out to get them. They're convinced they're conduction "business" as if "thief" is the next option on the list after "doctor, lawyer, indian chief".

Teach, who is himself a bundle of TNT, convinces Donny that their junkie cohort Bobby (Brian McManamon) is too unreliable to be in on the heist. What ensues (or rather what does not ensue) is hilarious and just as pathetic, making "American Buffalo" both comedy and tragedy. Director Rick Lombardo adds a dose of sentimentality to the ending of the New Rep's production --- an intriguing choice but one which undercuts the tragedy. These wise guys get into physical fights precisely because they can't express their emotions in other ways. Disconcerting too is Bobby's hesitation before each of his lines, a practice which throws the rhythm off balance. When Donny and Teach carry a scene, however, it works like gangbusters.

Cecchi as Teach is a firecracker, popping and sparkling, twitching and boxing --- more frenetic than Pacino but reminiscent of the electricity he generated in the role when filmed. As Donny, Baltin gives the play its center, its grounding in reality; a skewed reality to be sure, but Baltin provides the glue which holds the play and these three men together. To director Lombardo's credit, the heat comes through lound and clear. McManamon is certainly endearing as Bobby, but he is overe the edge, literally into space and those spaces clash with Mamet's pauses.

Janie Fliegel's cluttered basement junkshop and spectacular rain effects (with help from lighting designer John Malinawski) are the perfect setting for the play. Nancy Lynn Leary's seedy costumes are right on the money. As Teach says, "You've got to have a feeling for your subject," and the New Rep gets the feeling just right.

"American Buffalo" (till 13 April)
54 Lincoln Street, NEWTON HIGHLANDS
Read a minority report by Larry Stark

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide