American Buffalo


REVIEW by Willard Manus

The acting and directing were splendid; Takeshi Kata's junk-filled set was overpoweringly effective--so why did David Mamet's AMERICAN BUFFALO leave me unmoved? Major critics like Robert Brustein have called the play a masterpiece, audiences have cheered it ever since its 1975 debut, yet all I could feel was boredom and indifference while I sat through its revival at the Geffen.

AMERICAN BUFFALO, as most theatregoers know, concerns three petty criminals--one of whom, Don (Bill Smitrovich) owns a "resale" shop--who are planning a big score, the theft of a valuable coin
collection. There is much talk of the heist and what they will do with the loot, but they aren't capable of pulling it off and end up squabbling among themselves, angrily and profanely.

The blame game erupts in the violent meltdown of Teach (Ron Eldard, in the role that made Al Pacino famous), but the bloodbath leads to a kind of reconcilation between the men, a tentative affirmation of their underworld code of personal loyalty.

There is humor in Mamet's play, but mostly it depends on semantic highjinks to get by--street slang, insults, jibes, brief bursts of heartfelt but banal ideas and opinions. As far as I'm concerned, it was a lot of sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing.

(Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave, Westwood. 310-208-5454,