By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
Amazingly enough, another relatively new and completely under-the-radar theater company – Speak the Speech Theatre -- has popped up to open a full-bore and perpetually accelerating production of David Mamet's angry “American Buffalo.”
Written early in Mamet's career, first presented in 1975 Chicago, “American Buffalo” has been generally received as a damning story of three damaged men who never got a bite of the apple promised to every white male just for being born in America.
However, cast member Ken Beider (also the STST's executive director) sees it a little differently. He recently told the Arizona Daily Star the play is “an absurdist comedy.”
And as for the cast of three rumpled and ragged characters desperate to make some real money, Beider sees them “more as the three stooges.”
I'm inclined to go along with Beider on this. Mamet is so famous for his manly characters who talk straight with no charm or discretion, that many playwrights and screen writers have tried to do the same. After enduring a couple of decades of that in-your-face dialogue, it becomes rather tedious – like that infamous Chinese water torture.
With Dan Reichel as director, this production of “American Buffalo” is played so over-the-top you can't help but be amused at the cluelessness of Donnie (Don Cline), young Bobby (Marcus Gallegos) and Walter “Teach” Cole (Beider).
Donnie and the dim-witted Bobbie do develop something of a father-son relationship, in that Donnie feels a genuine sense of concern for Bobbie, who also realizes subconsciously that his street life needs a safe harbor somewhere and Donnie is his best bet.
In the dialogue there is no explanation how Teach got his nickname, but I like to think Teach was probably a high school shop teacher who lost his job when state funding for public education kept getting cut.
Beider keeps the energy meter pegged from start to finish on his role, throwing all of himself into every gesture and expression.
The plot, basically, begins when these three discover that a buffalo nickle can be worth $90. And there is a coin shop just around the corner from Donnie's second-hand place of business.
But that $90 is not for just any buffalo nickle. It has to be the right buffalo nickle, with exactly the right markings.
What are those markings? Well, none of these guys are sure. But Donnie has a book that describes all rare coins, so it's probably in there. Although Donnie warns his friends the book is just a general guide.
When Bobbie says he thinks the coin shop owner will be gone for the weekend, Donnie starts thinking they could slip into the coin shop late at night and steal that buffalo nickle.
Teach learns of their plan and wants in on the action. In fact, he wants to cut Bobbie out of the action and Act One is just getting under way. The harder this trio tries to figure out a plan to steal that coin, the more difficult it becomes.
“American Buffalo” runs through Nov. 6, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, at the Community Playhouse, 1881 N. Oracle Road.
Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 at the door; $15 seniors, military and students. For details and reservations, visit www.ststheatre.org or call Paul Brunelle, 520-904-8054.