Los Angeles Theater Review: AMERICAN BUFFALO (Geffen Playhouse in Westwood)

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by Jesse David Corti on April 14, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

THE GEFFEN PRODUCTION OF AMERICAN BUFFALO PREFERS TO GRAZE RATHER THAN STAMPEDE

The script of David Mamet’s assaulting and brutal American Buffalo still packs bite after thirty-eight years. The rapid-fire rat-a-tat-tat staccato dialogue crackles, and its unsentimental, unflinching portrait of two-bit low-lifes willing to scrape, scrap, and screw anything and everything to get their slice of the pie – and temporarily satiate their unquenchable appetite – makes it a profound, lasting work. This is the American dream realized by the basest individuals in society, folks who could easily be considered cavemen with their proclivity to hoard, survive, and get violent. However, if the fire is out in a production of this verbose and blistering piece, it becomes a milquetoast, talky evening. Randall Arney’s static staging combined with a lack of intention make this well-presented production at the Geffen Playhouse a tedious affair.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema review of AMERICAN BUFFALO, Geffen Playhouse L.A.

Ron Eldard plays Walter “Teach” Cole, and handles the humorous moments particularly well, but lacks the gravitas and restlessness necessary to showcase the feverish thoughts sprinting through his head. Freddy Rodriguez gives a smooth, terse performance as Bobby, and is actually the better of the lot on stage because he moves fluidly and reacts naturally. Bill Smitrovich goes through the patriarchal motions as Don Dubrow, but his static presence tended to drain tension from the action.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema review of AMERICAN BUFFALO, Geffen Playhouse L.A.

Takeshi Kata’s stunning junk shop is filled with wall-to-wall stuff piling up fourteen feet high strewn on shelves, packed in showcases, and laid out on desks. Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko’s ratty and overworn costumes outfit the players appropriately. Daniel Ionazzi’s super-bright fluorescent whites effectively shine the naked truth down on these miscreants. However, Arney’s vision is clouded by poor pacing, stilted staging, and the actors’ overall weak handling of Mamet’s dialogue. It is not for a lack of effort; the performances are certainly committed, but one senses that a more stirring and passionate approach would better suit the material.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema review of AMERICAN BUFFALO, Geffen Playhouse L.A.

photos by Michael Lamont

American Buffalo
Geffen Playhouse in Westwood
scheduled to end on May 12, 2013
for tickets, call 310-208-5454 or visit http://www.geffenplayhouse.com

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