David Mamet's AMERICAN BUFFALO at Actors Theatre

Actors Theatre of San Francisco presents……………..
AMERICAN BUFFALO by David Mamet…an accomplished, professional piece of theater.
Directed by Keith Phillips
Starring Randy Hurst, Christian Phillips and Vlad Sayenko
All I'm saying is don't confuse business with pleasure.
When David Mamet’s AMERICAN BUFFALO was first performed at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 1975, the dialogue’s staccato profanity was far more outrageous than it is today. Nonetheless, the outrageous dialogue peppered with vulgarities usually spoken in smoke filled bars creates enough shock value to grab your attention even though the plot and action are minimal. The success or failure of any Mamet play depends on the believability of the characters and their ability to hold you with words alone. It takes a masterful director and a hugely talented cast to mesmerize an audience with so little action and this production does just that. The dialogue sweeps us into the mind sets of three men who represent Chicago’s lowest low life and we are fascinated. “In a vernacular that is terse and crude and has been called “profane poetry”, they (the characters) scheme, lecture, lie and betray in the name of ‘business’,” says Director Keith Phillips. “The futility of their efforts is what lifts the play from the underclass streets of Chicago to a moving lament for the human condition.”

Listening to these three men on stage is like hearing a dissonant symphony with driving rhythm as compelling as a Bartok Mazurka. The rapid paced conversation is spellbinding on every level because it is completely believable. The plot deals with a plan for Donny (Randy Hurst) to steal a coin collection from a customer who bought a rare buffalo nickel from his junk shop. He arranges for the theft with his protégée Bobby (Vlad Sayenko) but Teach (Christian Phillips) manages to convince Donny that he is a more experienced and better man for the job. It is a deceptively simple story line that becomes multidimensional through the dialogue of the three men. Each speech combines rapid fire obscenity and pungent repartee to paint a complex picture of how desperate we all are to fulfill our own needs.

This is a play about trust…our search for it and our inability to feel it. Christian Phillips’ Teach is a driven man, determined hang on to his tenuous place in a limited world at any cost. He insists that they have a right to steal the coin collection because they are society’s victims and he says to Donny, “Let’s go get what is ours.”

Randy Hurst has created a character that has real compassion for the people he cares about. He wants Bobby to eat right, and Teach to take care of himself. It is that compassion that the hardened, determined Teach tries to destroy by forcing Donny to question Bobby’s motives. Doubt is the most killing weapon against trust and Teach is a master at creating that doubt and casting a light on everyone’s Achilles heel.

AMERICAN BUFFALO is far more than a lot of dirty words about an unsavory robbery scheme. It is a reflection of the insecurities and suspicions we all harbor and the fears that force us to take desperate, dangerous steps to insure our own safety. These men are not discussing the pros and cons of stealing a coin collection; they are talking about what they owe to one another as human beings. They are questioning the cost of getting the loyalty and protection we all need if we are to be free to pursue our dreams.

The only person anyone really knows is himself and all too often our actions defeat us. When our fear of diminishing our self image becomes greater than our fear of breaking a law, we are one with the three desperate men we see in David Mamet’s AMERICAN BUFFALO.

Actor’s Theater gives us another masterpiece, with acting that is so powerful that each scene replays in your mind long after you leave the theater. Keith Phillips direction keeps the pace and movement peppered with pauses to absorb the anxiety under the words we hear. James Baldock’s set brings us into the world of a junk shop overrun with the refuse of city life. It is a masterpiece of construction with chairs hanging from the ceiling, children’s toys clustering around with old furniture and rubble no one wants.

This is production is exquisite theater and not to be missed. To see these three men interact with one another spewing vitriolic verbal attacks on the world and the trap it sets for us all is drama at its best.
Loyalty is fine, but this is business.

AMERICAN BUFFALO continues through Sept. 3rd, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm at Actors Theatre of San Francisco, 855 Bush St, Between Taylor and Mason in San Francisco.

Tickets: General: $38, Students & Seniors: $26
Box Office: (415) 345-1287 or online at DramaList.com
More Info: www.ActorsTheatreSF.org