Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Fiery Production of David Mamet's American Buffalo
Aurora Theatre

Also see Patrick's reviews of God Fights the Plague and Becky Shaw and Jeanie's review of The Farnsworth Invention

James Carpenter, Rafael Jordan and
Paul Vincent O'Connor

Aurora Theatre is presenting a volatile production of David Mamet's 35-year-old classic American Buffalo. Director Barbara Damashek has assembled three brilliant actors to portray the petty crooks. The production is taut, humorous and surprisingly poignant. Mamet's dialogue is a mixture of street smart lingo and machismo speech delivered by three low-lifes too feeble-minded to work out a plan for a burglary. There is a certain rhythmic banter that I find pleasurable to the ear.

I first saw this drama at the Barrymore Theatre in New York in 1977 with Robert Duvall, John Savage and Kenneth McMillan playing the confused crooks. Later, I saw Al Pacino take the role of Teach in a revival at Circle In the Square. The American Conservatory Theatre's excellent production in 2003 starred Marco Barricelli as Teach. current The Aurora Theatre production is more tense but definitely on par with the New York and ACT productions.

The three hoodlums are holed up in a junk shop owned by Donny (Paul Vincent O'Connor). The audience sees that Donny is a responsible, maternal figure for the much younger and less bright Bobby (Rafael Jordan). Teach (James Carpenter), a close friend of Donny, is an ex-con loud mouth who has strange pretensions. His motto is "Kick ass or kiss ass" and there's no in between. It has been discovered that Donny sold a valuable coin for less than its worth. So the scheming trio plans a burglary to get the valuable coin collection which contains the rare Buffalo nickel. Teach begins to wheedle his way into the position of leader of the pack. He also believes that Bobby lacks the necessary skill and experience to be part of the burglary. This causes Donny to be unsure of what to do, since he believes this will possibly harm his sincere relationship with Bobby.

James Carpenter is outstanding in the role of the self-important Teach. He swaggers about the stage using his powerful voice. He is both comic and dangerous. He is the original "angry young man." His raging self-doubt explodes in violent rants on the tiniest of subjects. It is a tour de force of brilliant acting.

As Donny, Paul Vincent O'Connor (many years at Oregon Shakespeare Festival) captures both the well-meaning and paternal sides of the character. He delivers his lines with seriousness and persuasion. Rafael Jordan is excellent as the dim-witted Bobby. He instills a small, boyish charm in the role.

Eric E. Sinkkonen's junk store set is amazing. There is an incredible collection of bric-a-brac. Barbara Damashek's direction is fast and tight. Lighting by Kurt Landisman is perfect, and a special bravo to Dave Maier for his realistic fight direction.

American Buffalo runs through July 20, 2014, at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets call 510-843-4822 or visit Opening the 2014-2015 season will be the Bay Area premiere of Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Bister, Burn starting in August 29th and running through September 28th.

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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