September 13, 2001


American Buffalo

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning






















For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

For more information about Off-Tryon Theatre Company, please visit

Tonight, in the wake of the crucifixion of democracy as we know it, the Off-Tryon Theatre Company held a steady course with their season opener gala, complete with buffet food and a bar whose profits will go to the American Red Cross.

David Mamet's American Buffalo didn't provide much levity from America's distress, but it did provide a worthwhile diversion. The stage was transformed into a pawnshop sporting gems from the 70's, including Sean Cassidy posters and a Johnny Mathis Greatest Hits album. The audience was young and receptive, though they could use a lesson in theatre etiquette. Four people left and came back within the first 20 minutes of the play, which is quite disruptive in the 80 seat theatre.

American Buffalo is a three character play. Don is the middle-aged owner of the pawn shop, which we learn is frequented by local card players and guys who are up to no good. Bobby is a listless young drug addict who hangs by Don's side like a loyal bloodhound, waiting for a bone. Don is mysteriously protective of Bobby, since you get the feeling they aren't really blood related. They are joined by Teach, an agitated malcontent whose criminal tendencies are not matched with the intellect to actually plan a crime. While scheming to retrieve a buffalo nickel that Don thinks was worth more than he sold it for, the three reveal their human frailties.

When Hollywood needed a fat person, it hired Gwyneth Paltrow and put her in a fat suit. When OTTC needed a heroin addict, it hired the pale and gaunt Eric Blake to play Bobby. Sweetly indifferent and pathetically naive, Blake's facial expressions and sloppy slouch are perfect for the part. Bill McNeff plays Don as a gruff, opportunistic fatherly figure with a tendency toward red-faced displays of temper. The multitalented Carver Johns not only directs the play and designed the sound and set, but also plays the tightly wound Teach, which gives him the opportunity to gnash his teeth and mutter throughout the play... handy outlet for a director.

Together, the three don't have the smarts of a poodle. Teach is the kind of guy who peaked in high school, whose anger is close to the surface and indiscriminately directed. When he understands that Don and Bobby are going to commit a crime, Teach's first priority is to take Bobby's place, without a thought for the integrity of the operation. He just doesn't want someone to have something he doesn't.

Johns maintains Teach's character as a fidgeter and a pacer with a series of thumb chewing, finger wagging, and wild-eyed stares. "The only way to treat these people is to kill them," is a typical Teach response to a mild infraction. And if eyes could burn holes, Bobby's head would be leaking after Teach stares at the back of it. McNeff plays the easily frustrated Don with a touch of compassion and bewilderment that makes him oddly sympathetic.

Despite strong acting, the play's weakness lies in an insufficient amount of tension in the climactic scene. Because the character's relationships are shifty and insubstantial, I never believed they could really hurt each other.

All three actors fully embody their characters, and when the play was over I felt their exhaustion. It was an ambitious beginning for OTTC's second season, and evidence that a big budget isn't the soul of good theatre.

Lynn Trenning, September 13, 2001

[ArtSavant link]
© 2000 - 2001 ArtSavant - enquiries to