David Mamet's American Buffalo is a theater poser's dream play.
Though the drama ends where it begins and the characters fail to develop, meaning reveals its elusive little head to all those capable of finding meaning in the "circularity" and "musical inarticulateness" of the play and its characters, since there's no plot or apparent significance to speak of.
Mamet intends to examine the pathetic underside of society, a stratum playwrights tend to ignore. In the process, however, he delivers a play that is as redundant and empty as their lives. Director Spiro Veloudos, whose sense for dialogue and dialect is keen, unfortunately fails to impact energy and drive to a script that requires much.
The scene is the interior of a cluttered Chicago pawnshop--filled with junk, assorted gewgaws, and three junky (and equally disposable) characters. Set designer Janie Fliegel makes intelligent use of the small stage, using hanging lamps and exposed air conditioning vents to delineate the space of the shop.
The three characters spend the majority of the play meandering through their relationships and establishing their mutual loyalties and power differences, often violently. Donny (Ron Ritchell) operates the shop and serves as a protective father figure to Bobby (Phillip Patrone), the simple-minded idiot who repeats and forgets and seems mostly incapable of thought. With his awkward walks and intimidated, boyish cringing, Patrone's Bobby is convincing and real. Donny, whose intimacy with Bobby suggests a homosexual relationship, patiently tolerates Bobby's incompetency and continually offers him constructive advice, though, of course, to no avail.
"Teach" (Anthony Ejarque) is the most dominating of the three. Teach's frenzied ravings (reminiscent of Seinfeld's Kramer) disturb the monotony of the play while expressing his overarching nihilism. Unlike Patrone, Ejarque's and Ritchell's performances are merely adequate, though the blame probably lies mostly with Mamet.
Teach offers, in addition to a barrage of expletives and convoluted monologues, such insipid commentaries on post-industrial life as "You got no friends [in] this life." Ironically, he tells this to the only people who remotely care about him or his existence.
Though the audience never leaves the shop, the characters construct an external reality with sightings of police cars, references to poker partners and Bobby's frequent trips to the diner--frequent because he can't ever seem to get Donny's order straight.
At one point in the play, Donny and Teach plan a petty heist. The characters, who are so marginal and out of touch, never discuss the moral import of their theft. All they do is worry that they might be caught. Society has neglected them for so long that they perceive no limits to their actions and are unconcerned with the effects they might have on others.
Lacking suspense and development, American Buffalo delivers few memorable moments. Instead, the vacuousness the play depicts merely imparts to the audience a low-level malaise. It ends with Bobby sheepishly saying "I'm sorry," which is also his opening line, and the audience is no more enlightened than it was at the beginning.