American Buffalo | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

American Buffalo 

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AMERICAN BUFFALO, American Theater Company. Is there anything more disappointing than lukewarm David Mamet? His plays work best when performed by white-hot actors adept at his witty verbal pyrotechnics but capable of revealing the subtext seething beneath. But in the neutered Buffalo currently playing at American Theater Company, none of the three actors feels quite right and only rarely is anyone able to deliver Mamet's lines with the appropriate mix of menace and dark comedy.

American Buffalo premiered in 1975, during a low point in American history, the dispiriting post-Woodstock, post-Vietnam, post-Watergate years: everyone felt lost, everyone in power seemed corrupt, and only inflation was on the rise. Mamet's play was a savage attack on a morally exhausted America. But not the way directors Mike Nussbaum and Brian Russell play it. In their hands it becomes merely an acting exercise--and not a very well done one. John Mohrlein in particular is not nearly emotionally nimble or volatile enough to play Donny, a man so twisted up by resentment, thwarted desire, and free-floating anger that he's capable of doing or saying anything. Mohrlein's Donny seems drowsy, not slow-witted but unchallenged.

I may be projecting, however. I know I felt drowsy and unchallenged--and frustrated that so little of what makes Mamet great was present in this production.

--Jack Helbig

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