American Buffalo (play)
|Written by||David Mamet|
Walter "Teach" Cole|
|Place premiered||Goodman Theatre, Chicago|
|Setting||Don's Resale Shop, a junkshop in Chicago, on one Friday|
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 in 1977.
Act I takes place at about 11 AM. Don, who owns the junk shop where the entire play takes place, has sold a buffalo nickel to a customer for ninety dollars but now suspects it is worth considerably more. He and his young gofer, Bob (sometimes called Bobby), plan to steal the coin back. Bob has been keeping watch on the customer's house and reports that he has left for the weekend with a suitcase. Teach, a poker buddy of Don's, arrives and learns of the scheme. He persuades Don that Bob is too inexperienced and untrustworthy for the burglary, and proposes himself as Bob's replacement. 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.
Act II takes place a little before midnight on the same day. Teach and Don make final preparations to begin the burglary while waiting for Fletcher, who is late. Teach tells Don that Fletcher is a liar and a cheater at cards, and prepares to go commit the burglary on his own. Don is trying to persuade him not to take his gun with him when Bob appears at the store. He attempts to sell Don a buffalo nickel, similar to the one Don had sold the customer. When asked where he got the coin, Bob is evasive. Teach suspects that Bob and Fletcher have organized and completed their own burglary behind Don and Teach's backs. He asks Bob where Fletcher is. Bob tells him that Fletcher was mugged by some Mexicans and is in a hospital, but when Don calls the hospital, they have no record of his admission. Bob claims that he must have been mistaken about the name of the hospital, but the suspicious Teach strikes him on the head with a metal object. Another friend calls, corroborating Bob's story and naming the correct hospital. Don calls the hospital and confirms that Fletcher has been admitted with a broken jaw. Bob confesses that he made up the story about the customer leaving with a suitcase, and that he bought the second nickel from a coin dealer to make up to Don for his failure to keep tabs on the customer. 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." The characters' sometimes vulgar lexicon, moreover, may be seen as psychologically necessary armor against their brutal environment.
The parenthetical stage directions are straightforward and do not provide line readings.
American Buffalo opened at the Goodman Theatre Stage II on November 23, 1975, directed by Gregory Mosher with the cast that featured William H. Macy, (Bobby), Bernard Erhard (Teach) and J.J. Johnston (Donny).
The play premiered Off-Broadway at the Theatre at St. Clement's Church on January 26, 1976 and closed on February 7, 1976. Directed by Gregory Mosher, the cast featured Mike Kellin (Teach), Michael Egan (Donny) and J. T. Walsh (Bobby).
The play premiered on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on February 8, 1977 in previews, officially on February 16, 1977, and closed on June 11, 1977 after 122 performances. Directed by Ulu Grosbard, the cast featured Robert Duvall (Teach), Kenneth McMillan (Donny), and John Savage (Bobby). Sets were by Santo Loquasto and lighting by Jules Fisher.
The play was produced Off-Broadway at the Circle in the Square (Downtown) in June 1981, starring Al Pacino as Teach, Thomas Waites (Bobby) and Clifton James (Donny) and directed by Arvin Brown. This production ran at the Long Wharf Theater, New Haven, in 1980.
The play was revived on Broadway at the Booth Theatre, running from October 20, 1983 (previews) to February 4, 1984. Directed by Arvin Brown, the cast starred Al Pacino (Walter Cole, called Teach), James Hayden (Bobby) and J. J. Johnston (Donny Dubrow). The production was nominated for the 1984 Tony Award, Revival (Play or Musical), and Pacino was nominated for the 1984 Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Actor in a Play.
The play was presented at the Donmar Warehouse, London, from January 28, 2000 to February 26, starring William H. Macy (Teach), Philip Baker Hall (Donny) and Mark Webber (Bobby), directed by Neil Pepe. This production transferred to Off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre Company in March 2000 and closed on May 21, 2000. (Mamet and Macy are co-founders of the Atlantic Theatre Company.)
The 2017 Seattle Immersive Theatre production was in an abandoned storefront on the eve of demolition.
2002 Manchester production
There is a limited season at the Wyndham's Theatre, London, UK. Directed by Daniel Evans and starring John Goodman as Donny, Damian Lewis as Teach, and Tom Sturridge as Bobby. The show ran from 17 April to 27 June 2015.
Critic Frank Rich, in reviewing the 1983 production for The New York Times, called it "one of the best American plays of the last decade." Rich had previously reviewed the 1981 Off-Broadway production, calling the play "brilliant", and noting: "The play, though, is the thing. Working with the tiniest imaginable vocabulary - words like nothing, great, and no, as well as those of four letters - Mr. Mamet creates a subterranean world with its own nonliterate comic beat, life-and death struggles, pathos and even affection... In American Buffalo, he has created a deceptively small-scale tragedy that is packed with the power to explode the largest of American myths."
Awards and nominations
The 1977 Broadway production was 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), and won for Outstanding Set Design.
J.J.Johnston received a Theatre World Award for his portrayal of "Donny".
The 1983 revival was nominated for the Tony Award, Best Reproduction and the Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Actor in a Play (Pacino).
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