American Buffalo

Magic Roundabout Theatre Co presents 'American Buffalo' by David Mamet.

Magic Roundabout Theatre Co presents 'American Buffalo' by David Mamet.

Magic Roundabout Theatre Co presents 'American Buffalo' by David Mamet.

Magic Roundabout Theatre Co presents 'American Buffalo' by David Mamet.

The components of what makes us civilised rather than savages “sitting around some vicious campfire” are under debate in this play by David Mamet, the self-proclaimed ‘profane poet’ of the theatre world.

The dreary setting for this exposition of morality is Don’s Resale Shop in Chicago, where the owner’s trade in junk is supplemented by petty crime. Don (Stefan Barry) is seething over the fact that a man found a rare coin in his shop and he sold it to him for $90. He thinks his scant knowledge of coins gave the customer an advantage, so he is planning to burgle the man’s house and steal back the buffalo nickel, among other things.

Magic Roundabout Theatre CoHis faithful but dim shop gopher, Bobby—played by Ger Meaney—is due to carry out the robbery until Don’s friend, Teach, steps in. He convinces Don that Bobby is not up to the job, not to “confuse business with pleasure” and urges him to let Teach do the job. The robbery never takes place because of suspicion, infighting and the non-appearance of the third would-be thief. Planning a crime seems to be secondary to conversations about perceived slights, friendship, trust and the tools needed to succeed in a cutthroat world. As Teach (Darren Maher) schools Don, your philosophy has to be “kickass or kissass”.

Though Don and Teach see themselves more as businessmen in pursuit of a fair deal, the old cliché of ‘honour among thieves’ is present. They talk about values but have invented their own system of morality. The ideas may be lofty but the language is colloquial, peppered with obscenities.

Mamet’s brash, snappy dialogue always swaggers onto centre-stage but in this case, seems to dwarf the acting at times. After a hesitant start, Barry and Maher transform repetitive and mundane dialogue into some excellent verbal rallies. There are also several funny episodes such as when Teach offers his shoddy expertise on housebreaking or his bumbling phone-call to the target’s house.

All three men are small-time hoods trapped in a sad situation but strangely evoke no sympathy. Barry has the measure of the weary crook with a heart in Don. He defends and tries to protect Bobby but ultimately fails. Meaney awkwardly mumbles his way through the dialogue, without the American accent that the other actors have perfected. He did not make the most of the character’s vulnerability. Maher as the louche and paranoid Teach gives the best performance. He rages against everything and everyone. His domineering personality and latent aggression simmers throughout before exploding at the finale.

The intimacy of the venue was ideal and the monochrome set and stage dressing was a nice touch since nothing in the play is black and white, just shades of grey.

For all the praiseworthy individual elements, the play is literally all talk and no (or at least very little) action. Mamet’s acumen with words is brilliant but the play dragged in parts, and the direction (Zeb Moore) could have been tighter in terms of pace. Like the robbery that never was, the conclusion of American Buffalo was muddled and anti-climatic. But you get the sense that the playwright intended it to be like that because nothing ever works out well in the world of these men, and many like them.

Rachael Finucane is a journalist and arts blogger based in Limerick.

  • Review
  • Theatre

American Buffalo by David Mamet

Produced by Magic Roundabout Theatre Company
In The Loft venue, Limerick

Directed by Zeb Moore

Production Design: Zeb Moore, Darren Maher and Sylvia Moore

Sound Design: Loren Harnett

With: Darren Maher, Stefan Barry and Ger Meaney