American Buffalo (play)

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American Buffalo
Written by David Mamet
Characters Walter "Teach" Cole
Donny Dubrow
Date premiered 1975
Place premiered Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Original language English
Genre Drama
Setting Don's Resale Shop, a junkshop in Chicago, on one Friday
IBDB profile

American Buffalo is a 1975 play by American playwright David Mamet which had its premiere in a showcase production at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago. After two more showcase productions, it opened on Broadway on February 16, 1977.[1] Critic Frank Rich called it "one of the best American plays of the last decade."[2]


Don, Teach, and Bobby conspire to steal a coin collection from a man. Don, who owns the junk shop where all the scenes take place, sold a coin to a man for much less than what he now suspects it's worth. He and his young gofer, Bobby, plan to steal the coin back. Teach, a poker buddy of Don's, persuades Don that Bobby is too inexperienced and untrustworthy for the burglary. Teach suggests himself as Bob's replacement on the mission. Teach suggests they steal the whole coin collection and more. Don insists on their poker buddy Fletcher going with Teach. Teach continues to argue that he can do without Fletcher. At night, Teach and Don make final preparations to begin the burglary while waiting for Fletcher. Teach argues that he'll go without Fletcher and declares Fletcher a liar and a cheater at cards. Teach is preparing to go on his own and Don is telling Teach to calm down and leave his gun, when Bob appears at the store. Bobby attempts to sell Don a rare coin, similar to the one Don sold. When asked where he got the nickel, Bob evades. It seems Teach thinks that Bobby and Fletcher organized, and completed, their own burglary behind Don and Teach's backs. He asks Bob where Fletcher is. Bobby says Fletcher got mugged and is in a hospital, but when Don calls the hospital, no Fletcher. Bob says he got mixed up what hospital but by this time a suspicious Teach strikes Bobby on the head with a metal object. Then another friend calls corroborating Bobby's story and naming the correct hospital, which Don calls and confirms. Don admonishes Teach for wounding Bob and orders him to get his car so they can take him to the hospital.


As is emblematic of Mamet's writing style, the play's dialogue is sometimes terse and often vulgar. Teach says "cunt" numerous times and both Don and Teach say "fuck" even more. (By way of contrast, the younger character Bobby only says "fuck" in situations of extreme duress: immediately after being beaten and his final apology to Donnie.) Mamet's profanity is not employed for shock value, but is rather an integral component of his characters' "profane poetry", which, according to frequent collaborator Gregory Mosher, "worked the iambic pentameter out of the vernacular of the underclass."[3] The characters' sometimes vulgar lexicon, moreover, may be seen as psychologically necessary armor against their brutal environment.[4]

The parenthetical stage directions are straightforward and do not provide line readings.

Awards and nominations[edit]

The play won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play of the 1977 season, and was also nominated for two Tony Awards: Best Direction of a Play and Best Scenic Design (Santo Loquasto). It received four Drama Desk Award nominations, including Outstanding New Play (American).

The 1983 revival was nominated for the Tony Award, Best Reproduction and the Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Actor in a Play (Pacino).

In 1976 the play won an Obie Award for best new play.[5]

It was revived on Broadway in 2008 and starred Cedric the Entertainer, Haley Joel Osment, and John Leguizamo, but closed after only 8 performances.

J.J.Johnston Received a Theatre World Award for his portrayal of "Donny".

The play "American Buffalo" was dedicated to "Mr. J.J. Johnston of Chicago, Illinois

Film adaptation[edit]

The play was also adapted to a 1996 film, with Dennis Franz (Don), Dustin Hoffman (Teach), and Sean Nelson (Bobby) starring.


  1. ^ Mamet, David (1977). American Buffalo. Grove Press. ISBN 0-394-17016-4. 
  2. ^ Rich, Frank."Theatre: Al Pacino, American Buffalo" New York Times review, October 28, 1983
  3. ^ McCarter, Jeremy (2008-02-24). "David Mamet - Ira Nadel - Book Review - New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-19. 
  4. ^ Nightingale, Benedict (1983-11-06). "'American Buffalo' Proves Its Quality". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-19. 
  5. ^ "Private Tutor". Retrieved 2011-12-19. 

External links[edit]