WHTC's 'American Buffalo' Leaves Audience Hanging
By: Joanne Briana-Gartner, March 22, 2012
Courtesy WHTC - The cast of David Manetâ€™s â€śAmerican Buffaloâ€ť (from left): Stephen Peck, Tom Lyons, and Ricky Bourgeois. The Woods Hole Theater Company production runs through March 31, with 8 PM performances Thursdays through Saturdays
American Buffalo is a play that will find you either thinking over its nuances long after the house lights have come up, or one that you will dismiss immediately as a waste of time.
Written by David Mamet in 1977, American Buffalo was nonetheless awarded the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play of the season that year and was also nominated for two Tony Awards. This ambitious Woods Hole Theater Company production is directed by Bill Ring, with the assistant director role filled by stage manager Gina Peters.
If you go...
Produced by the Woods Hole Theater Company at theWoods Hole Community Hall 68 Water Street, Woods Hole
Showing Thursdays through Saturdays through March 31
Curtain call: 8 PM
In American Buffalo, the action is set inside a secondhand shop, consisting of a card table and a desk surrounded by tables strewn with old trophies, irons, clock radios, a spice rack and a spooky big-eyed print of a harlequin who silently watches the drama unfold.
Bobby (Ricky Bourgeois) is a young kid who sees the store owner, Donny (Stephen Peck) as a father figure. As the play opens, Donny and his card-playing buddy Teach (Tom Lyons) are suffering the effects of a late-night card game in which Donny lost a substantial sum of money.
Nickeled and dimed
The crux of the story is a revenge scheme against a customer Donny feels has weaseled him out of a valuable buffalo head nickel. Not only does Donny feel he was underpaid for the nickel, but he feels the customer looked down his nose at him—“like he has done me this big favor by just coming in my shop,” he tells Teach.
Donny first hatches a plan with Bobby to case out the swindler’s apartment—but Teach persuades him to cut Bobby out and let him do the job.
While this is the bones of the show, the meat is the dialogue that precedes and succeeds this decision.
As Bobby, Bourgeois plays up the young man’s insecurities perfectly. We see his uncertainty in his stammering words, his hunched posture and his constant fidgeting with the zipper on his leather jacket.
Talking it out
In a role that’s perfect for him, Lyons is spot-on as Teach, a role played by Dustin Hoffman in the movie version of American Buffalo. He swears—a lot. He carries himself as if he’s got a chip the size of a Yaris on his shoulder and goes on and on about the difference between business, friendship and facing the facts.
The play is dialogue-heavy and contains some great lines, most of them uttered by Teach.
In between talk of card games, guns and small-time heists, there’s entertaining discussion about the health benefits of yogurt and where Teach might have left his hat. When Teach tells Donny he likes to “talk it out,” he really means it.
Shop owner Donny is the least convincing character. In his role, Peck leaves the audience unsure of whether Donny is mild-mannered or just a worn-out old huckster whose anger is simmering just below the boiling point in contrast to Teach, who lets it all hang out.
Donny is more convincing as a caring father figure to Bobby, advising him not to skip breakfast and warning him that “things are not always what they seem.”
Peck also had some trouble with his lines on opening weekend and resorted to reading from the script.
Play imitates life
Despite Teach’s great efforts to convince you (and him) otherwise, the play is very much about loyalty, friendship, and human nature.
American Buffalo will leave you hanging—and that’s the point. While the conflict does resolve itself, the three characters are still left with their original insecurities to work out. Life goes on.
Plays and movies that are able to tie things up without loose ends after 90 minutes don’t mimic real life, which is messy and frustrating and not always happy, despite what your Facebook friends say in their status updates.