American Buffalo @ Steppenwolf Theatre

Someone needs to wash David Mamet’s mouth out with soap! Such a cacophony of cuss words currently on display at Steppenwolf!

Seriously, though. Mamet’s American Buffalo is a compact, explosive drama, where verbal vulgarity is right at home with these three worn-down characters who are — both figuratively and literally — buried. Don, Teach and Bob, a trio of equally distressed souls, engage in all sorts of volatile, paranoid discourse as they plot to steal some rare coins, but things start unraveling before they’ve even begin. Kevin Depinet’s setting, featuring towering shelves of clutter, perpetuate the overwhelming, defeated mood of this vintage Mamet work.

In spirit of The Addams Family‘s first act finale, my “full disclosure” is this was my very first time seeing a Mamet play live, onstage. Oh, I’m familiar with his work, having seen many of his movies including Wag the Dog, Heist and State and Main, as well as having read a few of his plays. But seeing his work onstage is an entirely different beast. The cadence, staccato and rhythm, the perfectly pitched back-and-forth, the pressurized menace — this all becomes apparent when hearing Mamet’s dialog onstage. Especially when guided by Amy Morton’s sure-fire direction and delivered by a rockstar cast, including Francis Guinan as junkstore owner Don, Tracy Letts as the high-strung Teach and relative newcomer Patrick Andrews as burned out gofer, Bob.

A few quibbles: The first act left me completely cold. Thankfully, my opinion of the show changed entirely at the conclusion of act two — mainly due to Letts’ tour-de-force performance. (Frankly, I think Letts should dust of a space next to his Pulitzer and Tony for an acting Jeff Award.) Also, Guinan, as wonderful as he is, has starred in the last three major Steppenwolf productions I’ve seen (Art, Fake and now this). I crave a bit more variety.

Still, this production represents Steppenwolf at its very best.

“American Buffalo” runs through February 14, 2010 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre. Go here for more information.

[Photo credit: Michael Brosilow]

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