Jacquelin & Sheafe Ewing
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Paul Templeton & Darrell Louie
Kathleen Garrison & David Wood
STARTS June 13
- In The News
- Program Notes
This is the play that put David Mamet on the map as a major American playwright when it appeared on Broadway in 1977, winning the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play. And yes, this is also the play that earned Mamet a reputation for creating expletive-laden dialogue. Set in an urban junk shop, three small-time crooks make plans to rob a man of his coin collection, including what they believe to be an extremely valuable “Buffalo nickel.” However, as the night goes on, motivations change, loyalties squirm and shift and paranoia rises to generate heart-pounding drama.
Runtime: Approximately 2 hours including one intermission.
Disclaimers: For Mature Audiences (Language)
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JAMES CARPENTER* - Teach
RAFAEL JORDAN* - Bobby
PAUL VINCENT O'CONNOR* - Donny
DAVID MAMET - Playwright
BARBARA DAMASHEK - Director
CASSANDRA CARPENTER+ - Costume Designer
KURT LANDISMAN+ - Lighting Designer
ANGELA NOSTRAND* - Stage Manager
KIRSTEN ROYSTON - Props Manager
ERIC SINKKONEN+ - Set Designer
MATT STINES - Sound Designer
David Mamet's America
David Mamet has been pushing America's buttons for the last four decades, ever since AMERICAN BUFFALO premiered at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in 1975 before opening on Broadway in 1977. The play "securely established [Mamet] as a major American playwright and firmly anchored Chicago as an important center of theater activity," says the Chicago Tribune. "The power of American Buffalo, its dynamic use of language and its vision of the underbelly of American life, boosted the city's theatrical stock beyond anything that had gone before... Dozens of small theaters, encouraged and challenged by Mamet's leap to fame, planted their flags and established an energetic, hard-driving "Chicago-style" of home-grown, home-made theater."
Few playwrights have achieved such influence or such success – fifteen Broadway productions including SPEED-THE-PLOW, THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD, and RACE; the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for GLENGARRYGLEN ROSS; and major Hollywood movies including HOUSE OF GAMES, WAG THE DOG, RONIN, and THE UNTOUCHABLES. Even fewer have provoked such strong reactions both positive and negative. Mamet's talent for crackling dialogue has always been applauded, even as his depictions of women and the battle of the sexes have sometimes provoked accusations of misogyny – as with 1992's sexual harassment drama OLEANNA. Mamet's plays and screenplays, filled with small-timecon men and language that elevates profanity to poetry, reveal – and revel in – an America in which any weakness is an opportunity to take advantage, and the possibility of a lie undermines every hint of truth.
The play that launched Mamet's reputation seems at fi rst like a small story. A junk shop owner and his associates conspire to plan a robbery. The plot turns on a Buffalo nickel; a rare coin which had been overlooked in the junk shop until a savvy customer discovered and purchased it. "The play's ostensible simplicity, however, expands into a parodic version of the American dream," according to Matthew Roudané in The Cambridge Companion to David Mamet. The characters' obsession with questions of fairness, of deserving, and above all of business become so all-consuming that they threaten to destroy the bonds of friendship and trust that hold us together as civilized human beings. The play "offers a portrait of the Republic in terminal decay," Roudané continues, "its communal endeavor and individual resilience all but disappeared. The trust and unity invoked on its coinage have now devolved into paranoia, the security and hope it once offered into a frightening violence." That these bonds are threatened over such comparatively paltry sums is all the more damning of an America that places so much more value on profi t and success than on loyalty or compassion.
This view – that business is destructive to human relations – would seem to place Mamet far on the left of the political spectrum. That seems to be where Mamet began. But in 2008, Mamet published an essay in the Village Voice entitled "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal.'" In it, he argues that the liberal point of view is "that everything is always wrong," and that "people are basically good at heart." Now a wildly successful middle-aged auteur, Mamet argues that in his experience everything is not always wrong and that "people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine."
"I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in theUnited States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances – that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired – in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it."
On topics including Israel, gun control, and free markets, Mamet has since staked out a position for himself that is very much in line with the far right. "In his younger days," says Charles McNulty in the LA Times, "Mamet turned con men into feisty symbols of the fiasco of American capitalism. Now an unregenerate capitalist himself, he's been on the hunt for all those have-nots eager to pick his pocket with their outlandish demands for justice, equality and fairness.
"Mamet has been celebrated for his unparalleled use of language; his plays endlessly discussed and debated. No doubt the debate will continue for many years to come. In the meantime, plays like American Buffalo continue to speak for themselves in a voice as distinctive and important as any in the American theatre.
- Josh Costello LITERARY MANAGER