American Buffalo on Broadway Isn’t Exactly the Charm Third Time Should Be

Behind the baffling comments that Mamet is apparently now dorecently appearing on Fox News, of all places, claiming that teachers are ‘prone’ to pedophilia (What the F*ck?), as he has, most worryingly, swung more to the right lately, I’ve doing my best to catch the third Broadway revival of his stellar play, American buffalo with an open mind to the well-known theatrical artwork presented here at circle in the square. Third time isn’t exactly the charm here, even though the cast delivers and the play is presented as if it were worthy of an authentic American masterpiece.

The story of this 1975 play is legendary, having first premiered in a showcase production in Chicago, and two more showcases before it opened on Broadway in 1977 with Robert Duvall as Teach, Kenneth McMillan as owner flea market, Donny and John. Savage as Donny’s simple-minded young employee, Bobby. Numerous revivals have since graced the Broadway stage, including one with Al Pacino as Teach. Pacino’s production first played Off-Broadway at Circle in the Square (Downtown) in 1981 before opening at the Booth Theater in 1983 to numerous Tony Award nominations. William H. Macy played Teach in a production of Donmar that transferred to the Atlantic Theater in 2000, and Cedric the Entertainer, Haley Joel Osment and John Leguizamo starred in a second Broadway revival that sadly ended after only eight performances. I would like to know what happened there.

Still, it’s no surprise that so many great actors wanted to dig into those three unique parts, especially the iconic role of Teach, now played by one of my all-time favorites, the Oscar winner. Sam Rockwell (“Fosse/Verdon”; off broadway Crazy in Love). It’s a wonderfully intricate part that twists and turns around the cluttered flea market owned by Don, currently played forcefully by wonderful Tony Award winner Laurence Fishburne (Broadway’s Two trains in motion), with talented Emmy winner Darren Criss (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace”; Hedwig) completing the cast. The three circulate around each other like game pieces, feeding off each other’s energy in a cluttered, overly designed space by Scott Pask (Broadway’s Prom) that is never fully utilized to its full potential. The bric-a-brac alleys become an obstacle, not only for many spectators trying in vain to have a clear and unobstructed view, but for the actors themselves who consciously work their best to spread their wings in this environment. limit.

Darren Criss and Laurence Fishburne in AMERICAN BUFFALO by David Mamet at the Circle in the Square Theatre, NYC. Photo credit: © 2022 RICHARD TERMINE

With impressive and articulated costumes from Dede Ayite (Broadway’s slave play) and powerful lighting from Tyler Micoleau (Broadway’s The group visit), the play, once heralded for its critiques of capitalism, doesn’t seem to find its way to the same level of greatness that many anticipated when it was first announced, then delayed for two years due to the COVID lockdown. The actors, in general, find their frame, dig up aspects of their characters that feel solidly authentic, but somehow lack a vibrancy that informs us of the play’s relevance.

Laurence and Rockwell strut their stuff as expected, digging into the thick of things with intelligent vitality. They log on and engage as nimble players in a competitive game of checkers (but not chess), hatching a plan to steal a valuable coin that Don has unwittingly sold to a wealthy neighbor. He feels cheated, cheated out of money for selling the coin for too little, because he never really knew its true value. Their internal imbalance of who they think they all are and what they’re entitled to versus what their actual weight and worth is played well, while Criss does a great job playing an eager simpleton who seeks desperate to impress his teacher. It certainly doesn’t turn out the way any of them thought it would.

The plot persists though, giving us the feeling that it should somehow be a one-act play, but it’s been expanded to two. Every time Rockwell walks into the room, the electricity picks up like he did”the skill and the talent and the ballsto arrive with full force of self-delusion, but the destruction of the second act still feels somewhat weightless and predetermined. “everything i say“is that the spark never really ignites the fire, and the violence, danger, and miscommunication feel forced and unnatural. American buffalo turns around, finding his way to the finish line with respect, but even with language as rich and precise as one would expect from David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross; Accelerate the plow), under the direction of Neil Pepe (ATC’s On the shore of the wide world), the production lacks a powerful momentum and lively spark to make it feel necessary or current.

Laurence Fishburne, Darren Criss and Sam Rockwell in David Mamet’s AMERICAN BUFFALO at the Circle in the Square Theatre, NYC. Photo credit: © 2022 RICHARD TERMINE