American Buffalo
By David Mamet

Directed by Hal Park

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Jacob Lyle and Ben Park in American Buffalo.
Into the scorching summer heat comes this production from the Walden Theatre Alumni Company. David Mamet’s American Buffalo premiered in 1975, following the success of Sexual Perversity in Chicago, and firmly establishing him as one of the most important playwrights of the late 2oth century American theatre.

The annual alumni show at Walden has established something of a tradition of high-energy renderings of terrific plays from recent American theatre history. A handful of former Walden students, either in or recently graduated from college and hungry to take the stage, deliver meaningful work. This early, seminal work from Mamet is a perfect fit. Three shady characters contemplating the robbery of a valuable coin are as inept as they are unscrupulous. Donny owns the run-down junk shop where the coin was sold for what he suspects was much less than it is worth; Bobby is his younger friend and gofer; and finally, “Teach,” a fully dangerous and highly volatile personality who throws the plan out of balance.

Although certain details suggest the period from which the play originates, Jacob Lyle’sTeach is a character entirely of today. A penny-ante thug dressed in stovepipe jeans, camo jacket, and sporting haircut resembling a combed-forward Mohawk, he is a tidily drawn psychotic, exploding on to the stage in his first scene wearing his vicious, hair-trigger rage on his sleeve like a caution sign.

Elliot Cornett plays Bobby as a naive, dim-witted henchman who requires the rough, father-son dynamic with Donny to survive – a vulnerable figure that seems to have little choice but to be victimized.

The role of Donny seems slightly less interesting in contrast, but Ben Park brings solid authority and a growing desperation to the character, reliably occupying the center.

The conceit of placing two characters who historically would have been uninspired henchman in the roles of would-be criminal masterminds becomes a specific measure of society’s decline. Donny and Teach would be perfectly at home as gunsels for Jimmy Cagney or George Raft in a Warner Bros. movie from the 1930s, but they are out of their depth here and don’t know it. Watching them pretend otherwise is a succinct and potent mix of comedy and tragedy.

American Buffalo

July 6, 7, 8 @ 7:30 p.m. 

Walden Theatre
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
(502) 589-0084