Review: American Buffalo

Set in a 1970s junk shop in Chicago, David Mamet’s American Buffalo follows three characters as they hatch a plot to steal back what they believe to be a valuable buffalo nickel. Although the plot initially sounds simple enough, with the characters representing different generational ideologies, the play becomes an insightful look into capitalism, the American dream, and loyalty. Consequently, the piece is reliant on dialogue and characterisation, with the real importance being placed on the development and fluctuation of each in order to prevent it from becoming monotonous. Thankfully, both of these aspects were executed well by the cast (Alexander Marshall, Angharad Phillips, and Jack Usher), all of whom managed to sustain their Chicagoan characters with only occasional slips in accent.

Despite this, what struck me was the depth of the characters as the actors captured the duality of their ideologies by demonstrating the inherent dichotomy within each, ideologies balanced between being caring and threatening, innocent and sly, and volatile and controlled. It was particularly notable that the role of Teach (Phillips) is originally written for a 70 year old man. Rather than attempting to pantomime such discrepancy between actor and role, Phillips instead created an interpretation of the character that felt more suited to her style whilst still managing to convey Teach’s rashness and sometimes backward outlook.

Alexander Marshall offered a contrast in his youthful uncertainty as Bobby, and was able to capture the character’s unreliability with a controlled subtlety. Jack Usher deserves particular praise for his role as Donny, artfully balancing a deviant wit with the almost homoerotic care he demonstrates towards Bobby and his drug problem. His physical embodiment of the character’s haggardness made his actions captivating to watch even when they were only on the periphery of the scene.

Palace Green’s debating chamber became the perfect setting for the junk shop, with records, books, and general bric-a-brac immediately immersing the audience in the play’s world. The actors’ ownership of the stage emphasised the sprawling nature of the set as they ventured into the audience themselves, resulting in an intimate feeling for the audience of being privileged into each conversation.

The sense of control established during the first act visibly broke down with the second, not just with the irrationality of the characters but through the literal destruction of the set. This tonal shift offered an exciting climax that added an important sense of vitality by giving action to the previously only discussed plans. Although this was executed well, I felt that the energy seemed to trail away at the very end, meaning that Bobby’s confession unfortunately lacked the intended impact that the increasing paranoia had promised. Nevertheless, cast and crew alike managed to pull off a commendable production that kept the audience second-guessing throughout. I would certainly recommend the play.


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