Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

American Buffalo

Review by John Lariviere

Also see Kevin Johnson's review of Trumbo

TheatreWest has moved to downtown Lake Worth, to the Lake Worth Playhouse's second performing space, the Stonzek Studio Theatre. The Stonzek is a classic black-box theater space, flexibly seating about 55 people. Black-box theater, heavily used in New York and other cities with large professional theatrical communities, lends itself to small cast, one set shows. Its size providing the director, cast and audience with the impact of increased intimacy. While some black-box spaces may be cramped and musty, the Stonzek is at once comfortable, crisp and functional. And its location, beside the Lake Worth Playhouse and downtown's lovely local restaurants and shops, is ideal. The creative force of TheatreWest Artistic Director Gordon McConnell will hopefully flush out the Stonzek to its full potential. He has chosen to begin his journey with David Mamet's American Buffalo.

David Mamet is a playwright known for word play. Not the languid loveliness of words, but the course trickery of them. For we are caught in the misconception that the same words have the same meaning for all of us. We are often lost in our own translation; and Mamet finds humor, insight and brutality in our use of language to obtain our objectives. (Whatever they may be.) His work has been compared to that of Samuel Beckett, and has earned him both a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Because his naturalistic style includes street jargon, his scripts are often peppered generously with expletives.

American Buffalo, one of Mamet's earlier pieces, includes his signature use of strong male characters and deals with the decline of societal morality. It is the story of three men plotting to steal a coin collection which includes a Buffalo Head nickel purchased from Donny, the owner of a junk shop. There is some supposition as to the unknown value of the coin, and resentment over the treasure Donny has allowed to slip through his fingers. However, actor Michael George Owens certainly does not allow the part of Donny to slip through his fingers. He is deliciously crusty, and makes every twitch, grumble and expletive seem spontaneous.

Paul Landrigan, as Donny's cohort, Teach, stays on top of his lines but is a bit less comfortable with them, and some of the course language seemed foreign to his lips. Because he did the first act at so much the same volume and anger level, it was like one note being struck again and again, and after some time became annoying. If that was the directorial intent behind the character then it was achieved. His performance in the second act was more dimensional. Paul Homza, as Bobby, has a somewhat thankless role without a solid opportunity to truly shine. Still he manages to be serviceable in his role as the well intended bungler. I spent most of my time watching Mr. Owens and appreciating the sheer volume of dialogue plied by Mr. Owens and Mr. Landrigan.

Staging, by director Gordon McConnell, goes without a hitch in this 3/4 round seating space. This is no small trick, as one can see the inherent problems in playing to three sides. And the set, a junk shop, is well executed. For those of you who have not gone to see black-box theater - go to the Stonzek. Where else could you be close enough to see every detail, including the misnomer that the plain yogurt referred to in this script, in fact looked like blueberry yogurt? Leave behind your concerns of sound systems and front row seating. You are always close enough that there are no microphones or makeup needed. Just good acting and scripts.

American Buffalo runs through August 29th at the Stonzek Studio Theater, 709 Lake Avenue, in Lake Worth. Tickets for this show, and information on the entire season are both available at (561) 586-6410.

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

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