Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
American Buffalo concerns three of life's loserssmall-time hood Teach, junk store owner Don, and teenager Bob (who's hooked on a different kind of junk)as they conspire to steal a rare Indian-head nickel from one of the shop's customers. They consider it revenge on a customer who might have ripped them offbut the more they talk about their plans, the more those plans spin out of control.
As Teach, Pete Pryor is a real live wire. He paces back and forth across the crowded set (a junk shop filled with finely detailed scrap; Matt Saunders did the impressive set design). "I don't think I'm saying anything," he declares, but he says a lot with every twitch of his arms, legs and shoulders. He wants to break free of this junk shop, not to mention his skin and everything else that constrains him. Pryor gets all of Mamet's profane comic rhythms just right; during intermission, a woman near me remarked "I had forgotten how funny the beginning of the play is."
That comic tone doesn't last. As the misbegotten trio's plan falls apart, things turn darkerin every sense of the word. Act two takes place late at night, with the only light supplied by onstage lamps that cast spooky shadows (Thom Weaver is credited with the lighting).
Teach may not be much of a thief, but in Pfeiffer's production, he steals one thing successfully: the show. Don and Bobby should be a calm contrast to the hyper Teach, but Joe Canuso's Don is a bit too low key; he seems only mildly irritated when Teach takes over as leader of the robbery plot. Robert DaPonte conveys Bob's stupidity by wearing the same uncomprehending expressionmouth agape, eyes widefor nearly the entire show. Late in act two, Teach strikes Bobbut you'll want to hit Bob much earlier.
Still, while this American Buffalo isn't particularly revelatory, it does provide the delight of listening to Mamet's poetic and uncompromising dialogue, and the pleasure of watching a marvelous, kinetic lead performance. With a durable play like American Buffalo, that's really all you need to enjoy yourself.
American Buffalo runs through May 3, 2009 and is presented by Theatre Exile at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $15-$30 and are available by calling 215-218-4022 or online at www.theatreexile.org.