Also see Susan's review of Around the World in 80 Days
For her last production as the founding executive director of Studio Theatre in Washington, Joy Zinoman has created a crackling production of David Mamet's seminal American Buffalo. The three actors form a tight ensemble in the claustrophobic confines of scenic designer Russell Metheny's seedy junk-shop set.
Mamet's play, which premiered on Broadway in 1977, looks at the American dream from the bottom: Donny (Edward Gero), who owns the shop; Bobby (Jimmy Davis), his young protégé; and hot-headed Teach (Peter Allas). They snipe at each other and their offstage friends, they spew resentment at the wealthy white-collar people who never see them, andsince they can't seem to achieve financial success through honest laborthey plot to steal a valuable coin collection from the home of a man who paid $90 for a buffalo nickel he found in Donny's shop. The fact that none of them knows anything about the value of coins is beside the point.
Zinoman and the designers are working in the intimate second-floor Milton Theatre, which virtually places the audience alongside the actors in the midst of the dusty, crowded metal shelves, the worn linoleum floor, and the clutter left after a night of poker and drinking. In addition to Metheny's painstaking detail, Michael Giannitti's lighting design sets the harsh industrial lighting against the strobe-like glow from a passing elevated train, while Gil Thompson's sound design summons the mean streets of Chicago. And once again, Robb Hunter has provided vivid fight choreography.
In most productions of American Buffalo, Teach dominates the action with his feral need to get whatever he can, however he can. This production differs by casting the dynamic Gero as Donny: older than Teach but just as frustrated as he sees life pass him by. Theirs is a meeting of equals.
Allas ably embodies Teach with his wiry physicality, creepy mustache, rapidly shifting eyes, and oily hair (costume designer Helen Q. Huang has given him the perfect clothes, including beltless pants and a gold neck chain). Gero, on the other hand, exudes the world-weariness that comes from struggling and feeling as if the game is stacked against him, trying to share his life lessons with apathetic druggie Bobby. Davis has a smaller role, but he's appropriately petulant and frustrated with a world that refuses to pay attention to him.