A DRAMA IN TWO ACTS
by David Mamet
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
He is peeling down the alley in a black and yellow Ford."
this play is dedicated to
Mr. J. J. Johnston,
of Chicago, Illinois
AMERICAN BUFFALO, by David Mamet. Directed by Ulu
Grosbard; setting by Danto Laquasto; lighting by
Jules Fisher; production stage manager, Herb Volger. Presented by Edgar Lansbury and Joseph
Beruh; Nan Peralman, associate producer. Opening
night was February 16, 1977 at the Ethel
Barrymore Theater, 243 West 47th Street.
DONNY DUBROW . . . . . . . . . . KENNETH MCMILLAN
BOBBY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JOHN SAVAGE
WALTER COLE (TEACHER) . .
. . . . ROBERT DUVALL
DONNY DUBROW, a man in his late forties. The owner of Don's Resale Shop.
WALTER COLE, called TEACHER, a friend and associate of DONNY.
BOBBY, DONNY's gopher.
Don's Resale Shop. A junkshop.
One Friday. Act One takes place in the morning, Act Two starts around 11:00 that night.
The above is reproduced from the stage script for American Bufflo available from Samuel French, Inc. of of 45 West 25th Street, NY, NY 10010. (Yes it is copyrighted information. Yes, I'm comfortable with that. I am enlightened.)
American Buffalo was written in 1975 by David Mamet, and is one of his most famous works. The premise is simple: three small-time crooks gather in a junkshop and plan to rob a coin collector and retrieve a valuable Buffalo Nickel.
Of course in Mamet's world, nothing is ever that simple. Why?
Well to start off, the three characters of the play are men -- and by that I mean American Men: stolid, proud, jocular -- but also defensive, brusque and vague.
And like American Men, the characters, for the most part, try very hard to hide their motives and feelings from the others. They attempt to persuade and manipulate one another with cryptic, backwards reasoning, or soothe each other with condescending praise -- and often descend into inane, yet excruciatingly tense small-talk.
And of course, this is all conveyed to us through Mamet's own interpretation of the cadence and content of real American dialogue: halting, obtuse, rarely in complete sentences, often quite vuglar and almost guttural -- but with a pace and rhythm that is unique and genuine. (Mamet claims that Americans actually speak in a rough iambic pentameter, completing each other's sentences like Shakespearean verse. Parts of American Buffalo are actually in iambic pentameter for up to pages at a time.)
Finally, the entire show seems intentionally disconnected from the outside world. The action takes place in an unnamed city at an unspecified date -- and though the dialogue is dated and some details suggest NYC or Chicago, these and other details are intentionally absent. Key characters that are spoken of or even anticipated on stage are never seen, and at one point a gun which appears early in the show unsettlingly fails to go off by the end. Even the three men themselves seem impotent and lost, and throughout the entire story we watch them be continually thwarted (or thwart themselves) in their attempts to execute their small heist.
I've never found a concise or in-depth interpretation of the play as a whole, so I'll throw in my two cents based on my experience in playing the character of TEACH: The players seem driven by the vague and lofty ideals they hold regarding what it takes to make it in their world -- and they speak of these ideals with a sort of reverence: Talent. Skill. Balls. " . . . the ability to arrive at your own fucking conclusions." They emphasize Friendship versus Business, Talk versus Action. Despite these higher motivations, when these men interact they are most often driven by fear, suspicion, greed, selfishness and mistrust of one another. Though the robbery they plan is simple, the characters hang a great deal of weight on its success -- as if being able to pull off this one job were a validation of all of the things that they hold dear. And as the plans for the robbery inevitably fall to pieces, so does the faith they hold in those ideals.
Winner of the Drama Critic's Circle award for Best American Play in 1977 and an Obie award for its off-Broadway run in 1976, American Buffalo was David Mamet's first critically acclaimed major play and is considered one of his stage master works. In 1996 the film version was produced, starring Denis Franz as DONNY and Dustin Hoffman as TEACH.