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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 25, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 4
Endangered species - Seattle Rep explores the dark underbelly of the American Dream
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Endangered species - Seattle Rep explores the dark underbelly of the American Dream

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

AMERICAN BUFFALO
SEATTLE REPERTORY THEATRE
Through February 3


Two Chicago lowlifes conspire to steal a questionably valued coin collection from a neighborhood guy, just because. Because they're bored, or they realize that they've been left behind by the American Dream, or perhaps they're just jealous of him. That's the basis of David Mamet's American Buffalo, a gritty, verbally assaultive play being presented by Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Donny (Charles Leggett) is a '70s-era junk-shop owner whose business looks like it could collapse at any moment. In Eugene Lee's overwhelmingly huge set (which does not serve the play entirely well), the entire shop looks ready to fall down around his ears. Donny has a group of associates - 'friends' would be too nice a term - with whom he plays poker, and Bobby (Zachary Simonson), a young man - 'protégé' would be too nice a term - he has taken under his wing.

Bobby is slow, though eager to please the guy who seems to be his only lifeline. Simonson's characterization is an interesting and evocative one, and one that fits the script, but unfortunately the pacing of his delivery tends to slow down this staccato-rhythmed play to a detrimental point. But his eagerness is clear and convincing. He wants so badly to show Donny that he can accomplish things that he'll lie about the accomplishment.

ALL FOR ONE?
Teach (Hans Altwies) is a lowlife who plays poker with the group. His antipathy toward everyone belies his constant talk about loyalty and the need to stick together. Teach finds out Donny is going to pull a job on a neighbor who bought a buffalo-head nickel from him, because Donny thinks he got cheated out of its real worth. Donny was planning to use Bobby for the job but Teach talks him out of that, and he and Donny plan the heist with their own brand of precision, or lack of it. A funny moment where they try to phone the guy to determine if he's home is a demonstration of their ineptitude.

Wilson Milam directs a solid trio of actors, but while it's a decent production, it does not always fulfill its promise. A real quibble is the basic absence of a Chicago accent. They don't make fun of 'Da Bears' for nothing. One wouldn't do a British play with upper-crust accents for Liverpool blokes, would one? Another aspect is the peripatetic nervousness by Altwies as Teach. It doesn't allow Teach to grow in rage, so his explosion at the end is no surprise. The pillow moment is superfluous, only supposed to be funny - and ends up feeling too much like the end of Inspecting Carol, with a stage falling apart.

American Buffalo is a challenging play and the production still is interesting, though it's hard to like any of Mamet's underdog characters. For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call (206) 443-2222.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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