Star Rating: ****
When a rich guy from Lake Shore Drive wanders into Donny’s junk shop and pays $80 for a buffalo nickel, Donny knows he’s been cheated. He doesn’t know how, but sure as there was something rotten in the state of Enron, he knows he’s been on the losing end again. So Donny decides to get his rightful share of the American dream and steal the coin collection of the guy from Lake Shore Drive. He’s going to pull off the heist with the “help” of his fast-talking friend Teach and a hapless, boneless kid named Bobby who may or may not be a junkie.
American Buffalo was David Mamet’s first major play, and its genius lies in the authentic echoes of America’s anthems—eat a good breakfast, plan for success, be loyal, be focused, make your own fortune. But the adages turn to ashes in the mouths of the unfortunate Donny, Bobby, and Teach. You know the junk-shop boys aren’t going to pull off the big coin robbery. Their plan isn’t worth a plug nickel—buffalo or otherwise. Teach isn’t exactly a team player, and Bobby has an attention-deficit problem. But there’s something appealing about these guys that makes you wish that, just once, the losers could be winners.
Studio Theatre founder and artistic director Joy Zinoman chose American Buffalo as her final directing effort before her retirement—and she’s going out with a career-topping triumph. She has assembled a terrific cast—Edward Gero is the sweet center of the play as Donny, Peter Allas practically vibrates as the highly wound Teach, and Jimmy Davis is the perfect foil as the kid Bobby. Zinoman allows the play to move along by fits and starts, letting the disjointed rhythm of the characters’ existence set the pace.
Every element works—even the junk on Russell Metheny’s set looks authentic. Wherever did he find Donny’s beat-up chair, the perfect throne for the ruler of all the trash he surveys?
American Buffalo is blasphemous, funny, tragic, insightful, and disturbing. It’s an American treasure. Joy Zinoman can exit beaming.
At Studio Theatre through June 20. For tickets ($35 to $63), click here.