NY: American Buffalo

Have there been too many discussions involving Sex and the City recently? Too many of your girl friends asking you to go shoe shopping? Do you need a good shot of testosterone in your life? If so, head no further than the Belasco theatre and take in the excellent production of David Mamet’s masculine play American Buffalo.

American Buffalo takes place inside a pawn shop run by Donny Dubrow (Cedric the Entertainer). Frequent visitors to the shop include Bobby (Haley Joel Osmet), a young kid who used to be a junkie, for whom Donny has a soft spot in his heart, and Teach (John Leguizamo), a greasy small time crook. After a stranger buys an American Buffalo coin in Donny’s shop for $90, the three men plan to heist the stranger’s house, assuming he has a stash of rare coins. These are rough and tumble men in a rough and tumble plot.

Under the excellent direction of Robert Falls, and three strong performances by its famous performances, this production is raw, rough, and thoroughly engaging. I always have a bit of trepidation when seeing a production with this type of cast – recognizable names, but entertainers not necessarily known for their stage work. Sometimes casting like this is a stunt, but sometimes, and in this case, the performers involved are truly talented actors. They each create fully realized characterizations. You understand who they are and how they relate to each other the moment they step onto the stage.

This production is fascinating in the sense that it is the very epitome of American Acting, good and bad. Every actor gives a sensitive, connected performance, organic and real. They are hugely successful in spite of the fact that their technical skills are their weak points – there is no vocal support to speak of between the three, all of them speak from the back of their throats. I bring this forth merely as a musing – American Buffalo is such an American play and therefore perhaps has to be performed in an American style. Maybe these characters would seem false were they performed from the diaphragm. I’m not sure, but I do wonder whether their voices will fully endure a run of eight performances a week.

Cedric the Entertainer brings a solid presence to the role of Donny. He is grounded, fully believable in his tough moments, fully believable in his tender moments. Osmet holds his own against the older man, and never seems out of his element. He is just as good. This is quite a feat considering his character is perhaps the hardest to put your finger on, as most of his lines consist of one or two word answers to questions. Yet Osmet creates a Bobby that the audience gets. We need no further proof that Osmet has left the stigma of child actor behind, and should be considered by his merits as simply, an actor.

Leguizamo is best of all. His role is the showiest of the three, and Leguizamo is on fire. His characterization is so detailed, he crosses all his t’s and dots his i’s, from Teach’s stance, to the way he rubs his belly, even to the way he touches himself. You know who this man is.

The excellently telling costume design by Santo Loquasto helps the actors establish their characters. Loquasto also designed the impressively detailed set.

4 stars


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