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Margaret Croyden

Meditations on being charged by an American Buffalo

Belasco Theater 111 West 44th Street
until February 2009

Matinee: Wed & Sat 2pm Sun 3pm Evening: Tue 7pm Wed through Sat 8pm
between $59.00 and $103.00
Reviewed by Margaret Croyden January 28, 2009

David Mamet, winner of numerous prizes for his plays, as well as for his films, has had two revivals this season. The first "The American Buffalo," which closed prematurely and "Speed the Plow" which continues to be still alive. (to be discussed later) David Mamet is one of the most successful contemporary playwrights and has always created a stir in the theater. With a good deal of positive recognition, he continues to work in all the media. Nevertheless, I find his work repugnant, despite his attempt to be provocative and daring.

"American Buffalo" is a case in point. First produced in 1977 on Broadway, it has been revived yet again this year, and unexpectedly received such poor
notices that the production shut down almost immediately. Which is unusual for a Mamet play. After so many years can Mamet be evaluated differently? Maybe the critics were right and the time has come for Mamet to change his tune. Right from the start he reminded me of Harold Pinter's work with pauses. Pinter used the pause to express his character's inner struggle and their duel with other. Mamet's pauses are just there for their own sake.

Another problem is that Mamet continually deals with the same kinds of characters: punks ("The Sopranos") most of whom are stereotypical. Their language consists of four letter words repeated continually. That his characters are loud mouthed, vulgar in the extreme, and more animal like than human are typical features of a Mamet play. His people may be metaphors for something else, but Mamet's choice in both dialogue and plot come across as one dimensional not to speak of the repetitive language. Not a line goes by without one of his characters spewing out a four letter word, used as a noun, an adjective, or a participle. Women for these men in the play are either c....s, lesbians, or whores, though the women themselves do not appear. It's not that such language is impermissible in a play, but language should have more purpose, more control, and more originality than this David Mamet play. What is perplexing for me is why Mamet writes the way he does. We know he's damning free enterprise--"business--" as his characters call it. We realize they are small time thieves and scoundrels; we know they come from the lower classes, and are ignorant, even stupid, though they speak of friendship. One or two of these men may show some humanity. But there are no heros in a Mamet play.

Not that these so called business men succeed in "American Buffalo," as they search for the five-cent coin adorned with a buffalo, so that can cash in whatever it is worth. That the play is set in a junk yard is another symbol of the dirt, havoc and uselessness that these characters represent. (The setting is the most interesting part). But unfortunately the characters are easily recognizable--no surprises, no build up, and no contrast. They are all alike and finally they are boring.

I'm wondering if Mamet's obvious damnation of American's drive for money as represented by these petty thieves and their ambitions could be written in a more interesting and less obvious way. Does anyone really enjoy this kind of play where the characters are all despicable, and where the bulk of the language consists of four letter words, repeated endlessly. Finally the play became an assault on the audience. But as a friend said "that's Mamet, that's the way he writes" O.K., but I don't need to admire it.

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