Magazine article Variety

American Buffalo

Magazine article Variety

American Buffalo

Article excerpt


American Buffalo

theater: Wyndhams; 772 seats; £72.25 ($110) top

director: Daniel Evans

starring: Jon Goodman, Damian Lewis, Tom Sturridge

Buffaloes, American or otherwise, live in herds. Leading actors don't - and it sure shows in this starry revival of "American Buffalo," David Mamet's 1975 play about three wasters in a Chicago junk shop. Daniel Evans' West End staging shows what happens when everyone does their own thing really, really well: The play goes missing, but no one much minds. Mamet might, but audiences turning up to see Damian Lewis, John Goodman and Tom Sturridge giving larger-than-life performances certainly get their money's worth, even if only as a job lot.

Paul Wills' design should share some blame. It looks beautiful, with rusting household flotsam heaped 10 feet high up the walls, but it's so crowded with symbolism that its noise drowns out the play. Don's Resale Shop is at once a prehistoric cave, a fortress and, with its Jesus statuette and accidentally stained glass windows, a church of sorts. Globes are dotted here and there, reminders of the world offstage, and a neon green pharmacy sign blinks overhead, screaming "Sanctuary." This is a room you read, and while you're doing so, the plot's busy unfolding elsewhere.

Each character has his own significant spot onstage: a counter of stale cigars for worn-out proprietor Don (Goodman), a stack of childhood toys for his young apprentice Bob (Sturridge) and a sink and shaving mirror for the vain Teach (Lewis). By their seating arrangements, you shall know them, and overhead, a canopy of assorted bicycles and chairs hangs down on chains. It's a symbol of the stark American choice between get moving and sit waiting.

Having accidentally sold a rare nickel for less than it's worth, Don plots to send Bob off to steal it back, only to be persuaded that Teach is the better man for a bigger job - to nick the nickel along with the rest of the coin collection. Not that they ever get going, of course; even a phone call to check whether their victim's at home is bungled. It's hardly the world's best moneymaking scheme in any case; most coins are worth little more than the silver they've been minted from. The same goes for most of Don's wares.

It's a foolish scheme, concocted by a scheming fool. Lewis' Teach is a poser in a purple suit, with '70s sideburns and a handlebar moustache. …

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