Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

American Buffalo
Theatre Exile

Pete Pryor and Joe Canuso
Theatre Exile delivered a wonderful production of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross a couple of years ago, earning a few Barrymore Awards for the cast. So it's no surprise Exile (and Glengarry director Matt Pfeiffer) would want to return to the playwright's work, this time offering up Mamet's early classic American Buffalo. The result is a solid version of a work that set a new standard for American drama. If it rarely has the sparkle of that Glengarry, it's still a respectable production that audiences should find entertaining.

American Buffalo concerns three of life's losers—small-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 off—but 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 darker—in 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 expression—mouth agape, eyes wide—for nearly the entire show. Late in act two, Teach strikes Bob—but 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

American Buffalo
By David Mamet
Directed by Matt Pfeiffer
Assistant Director: James Ijames
Stage Manager... Jamie Simons
Set Designer... Matt Saunders
Property Designer... Avista Custom Theatrical, LLC
Lighting Designer... Thom Weaver
Sound Designer/Composer... Christopher Colucci
Costume Designer... Alison Roberts

Don Dubrow... Joe Canuso
Bob... Robert DaPonte
Walter Cole, called Teach... Pete Pryor

-- Tim Dunleavy

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