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American Buffalo

David Mamet. You don’t have to be an über theatre nerd to recognize the name, or know the certain level of respect that comes with the name. Most likely you are acquainted with the fact that the man is known for writing some serious dialogue with ample (or obscene, depending on how you look at it) amounts of expletives. Most of us know this. In fact, some may know him for his work in film… but this is a theatre review, so let’s needlessly complicate things. You may have been a witness to select scenes worked over and over in theatre school, skimmed several of his plays in search of a good male monologue and possibly seen a production of Glengarry Glenross or Speed-the-Plow years ago. But it isn’t an everyday occurrence that a well-respected “big” theatre mounts one of his mind-blowing (at the time) almost 40-year-old plays. The Geffen Theatre has decided to do just that. American Buffalo is now playing at your favorite Westwood theatre.

Fascinating. Possibly.

What’s the story? We enter the lives of three somewhat seedy fellows/small time hustlers who spend their time at a basement Chicago junk shop. The owner of the shop, Don (Bill Smitrovich) feels that he has been taken advantage in the sale of a rare buffalo nickel and plans to use his dim but likeable ex-junkie gofer, Bob (Freddy Rodriguez) to retrieve the nickel as well as snatch his much larger rare coin collection. The third amigo, Teach (Ron Elard) joins in the action when he convinces Don that his expertise would be needed… along with a fourth character whom we wait endlessly for.

Mamet says, “I used to spend a lot of time with hustlers and thieves. A play set among them is, like a play set among the super rich, in politics, or among kings and queens, or in Oz, a device which lets us participate fully. It means, ‘once upon a time.’”

Ok, I agree. Sort of.

The themes in American Buffalo are still current. Topical in 2013. This show is a portrait of skilled acting. The set (Takeshi Kata) is outrageously intricate. The excessive swear words are (shamefully) normal with the exception of one or two super biggies that aren’t often heard. The pace set by director, Randall Arney, is debatably sluggish, but the two-hour show written 40-ish years ago was ahead of its time as far as length goes. But is it a viable piece to put on stage for the regular theatre-goer? The theatre patron who values supporting the arts, and looks to theatre to enlighten, entertain, educate, and alter how we may see the world around us? Do those theatre patrons exist any more, or only in my mind? Can we participate fully, as Mr. Mamet suggests? No, I wouldn’t say that is the true across the board.

This show beckons the participation of the theatre geeks. By “theatre geeks” I mean people who have studied theatre history, know the role Mamet played in the evolution of American theatre, theatre actors, theatre enthusiasts. They (WE, who am I kidding, I’m a total theatre geek) will find value in the debate of its relevancy… of all sorts of hoo-haw. This is the definition of good time for us. But if I can put my “regular” theatre patron hat on, looking for an altering event through the world of theatre… this may not be the place to look. From my vantage point, no matter how much I’d like it to… it just doesn’t pass the, “So what?” test.

Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Ave., L.A
(310) 208-5454 or
Through May 12.
8 pm Tuesday-Friday, 3 and 8 pm Saturday, 2 and 7 pm Sunday
Tickets- $47 to $77 (and on discount sites)
Running time- 2 hours, give or take.