The owner of a dingy junk shop plots to steal back a rare coin that he sold for $90. His angry, paranoid friend wants a piece of the action, but plans to take far more than the coin. A recovering drug addict wants to help, but gets more than he bargained for with his two cohorts. This is the plot of David Mamet’s American Buffalo which kicks off the Blue Barn Theatre‘s 26th season.
This is the most difficult script I’ve ever seen produced. The characters often speak in fragments with the broken dialogue overlapping each other. It also requires very intense listening from the audience as the characters never come out and say what it is they plan to do. It’s hinted at, suggested, and implied. A work like this requires the best performances from the best actors and needs surefire direction. Fortunately, that’s exactly what we get as Susan Clement-Toberer’s fabulous staging and directing of a top flight cast make for a intense and satisfying night of theatre.
Martin Scott Marchitto has really outdone himself on this set. It’s so simple, yet so complex. The set looks like an ordinary, cluttered basement, yet was designed from scratch. Throw in the properties from Amy Reiner and you’ve got the perfect setting for a crime drama.
Jerry Longe gives one of the most beautifully underplayed performances of his career as Donny Dubrow, the owner of the junk shop and mastermind of the theft. Longe’s Dubrow really isn’t a villain. He’s just slightly shady. Dubrow clearly doesn’t earn a lot of money from his junk shop, yet always seems to have a roll of cash handy. As Dubrow, Longe is cool, level-headed, and methodical with a yen for his health which is demonstrated by his fondness for yogurt. Long also imbues Dubrow with a strong streak of kindness and humanity as he has taken a young drug addict under his wing and is helping him to overcome his demons.
Dubrow desires to steal back a rare coin he sold simply because he’s certain he can get far more money than the $90 he originally received. Lending credence to his less than villainous nature is the fact that all he wants is the coin. His only mistake is cutting his friend, Teach, in on the scheme and gets infected by his paranoia. This error nearly leads to a lethal mistake at the play’s climax, but also permits Longe a beautiful and tender moment of redemption in the end.
Thomas Becker is a wonder as Walter “Teach” Cole. Teach is a brutish paranoiac who clearly hates his lot in life and believes everyone is against him. Becker plays Teach with a sensational twitchiness. The man cannot sit still and constantly moves around like an animal stalking its prey. It’s almost as if his body can just barely contain it’s seething ferocity. When he learns about Donny’s plan, he immediately volunteers to help and plan the whole crime. Teach likes to pretend he’s a criminal mastermind by hiding from police cars cruising by on the street, but his so called plans and failure to think anything through reveal him to be the rankest of amateurs.
Teach’s suspicious nature nearly wrecks everything when he starts to suspect allies as enemies. When the whole truth of the situation is revealed, Becker’s Teach disintegrates into a temper tantrum that finally removes the mask and reveals Teach as an overgrown child who merely wants to win, just once, in life.
Jonathan Purcell does exceptional work with the role of Bobby. Purcell paints a haunting picture of a former drug addict struggling to stay clean. He gives Bobby little tics to indicate his body’s desperation for a hit. Yet he also gives Bobby a fierce loyalty to Donny as he would do anything to make Donny happy. Purcell injects some levity into the show as his Bobby is clearly as dense as a brick. Whether from natural inclination or due to excessive drug use is left to the audience’s interpretation. When Bobby’s loyalty is called into question, Purcell splendidly adds a sense of tension to the character up until the revelations begin.
A few scenes of violence need some fine tuning to be more believable, but these do not detract from the superlative work of this talented trio. With acting and direction of this caliber, American Buffalo has all the hallmarks of a major hit.
American Buffalo runs through Oct 25 at the Blue Barn Theatre. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm. Two Sunday performances will take place on Oct 12 & 19 at 6pm. Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for students, seniors (65+), TAG members, and groups of ten or more. For reservations, call 402-345-1576. The Blue Barn is located at 614 S 11th St in Omaha, NE. American Buffalo contains very strong language and a couple of scenes of violence. It is not recommended for children.