PROJECTS

 

Reggie Perrin

This production of American Buffalo by David Mamet was performed at Londons The Old Vic in February to April 1997.
This is a play in which almost nothing happens - a robbery is planned in Act 1, then fails to take place in Act 2 - you are gripped throughout by the constantly changing tensions between the three characters. Bill Bryden, who directed the British première, has compared the piece to a card game, in which the audience is consantly asking itself "Who's winning?", "Who's on top?" as these desperate and hilariously incompetent thieves jostle for power and status.

For all its verbal obscenity, this is a profoundly moral, slightly old-fashioned, left-wing play that has much in common with Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. The setting, a Chicago junk shop (marvellously caught in Joanna Parker's fascinating, cluttered design) could hardly be more symbolic of the failure of the American Dream. Here are all the material goods that were supposed to bring happiness, their very presence in the "resale" shop proving that they failed to do so.

Douglas Henshall plays the greasy, motor-mouthed Teach like a man on an amphetamine rush, getting maximum value from Mamet's language while adding his own amazingly eloquent vocabulary of richly comic arm gestures. He's at once funny and terrifying. Neil Stuke captures the bruised vulnerability of Bob, the recovering teenage junkie who becomes Teach's victim in the chillingly violent final scene, but it is Nicholas Woodeson who provides the play's emotional centre as the junk-shop owner, Don. Don treats Bob like the son he obviously doesn't have, and then betrays him. Woodeson beautifully captures Don's tender concern for the boy in the earlier scenes, and his sense of guilt, grief and fury at the end. Thanks to his detailed, yet almost self- effacing performance, you emerge from American Buffalo feeling moved. Beneath Mamet's tough exterior beats an unexpectedly compassionate heart.

Daily Telegraph, February 1997

Author: David Mamet; Directed by: Lindsay Posner; Cast: Douglas Henshall, Neil Stuke, Nicholas Woodeson