American Buffalo | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

American Buffalo 

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AMERICAN BUFFALO, Circle Theatre. This 1975 play about a trio of losers in a Chicago junk shop planning the heist of a coin collection is seminal David Mamet. The dialogue is taut, the characters fascinating, and the storytelling spare but propulsive. Those looking for allegory will find a critique of American business as blistering as the one Mamet later wove into Glengarry Glen Ross. Those who like their theater more literal will enjoy American Buffalo as a witty, savage character study. No wonder theaters love doing the play. But sometimes I wish they'd restrain themselves, especially when the cast is not quite up to the demands of the script: witness the dreary American Theater Company staging several months ago.

And it's happened again in this slightly better production. Andy Gwyn is not bad as Don, the posturing, talkative junk-shop owner. And Jay Fontanetta is pretty good as Bobby, Don's slow-witted sidekick. But Greg Kolack is miscast as Teach, the asshole responsible for virtually every bad turn in this benighted burglary. Kolack comes off as too nice for the part. Even when Teach loses it and smashes Don in the head with a bowling trophy, Kolack seems an actor playing anger, not someone who's really been pushed over the edge. A deeper problem is that Tony Vezner's staging doesn't build adequately to the play's climax.

--Jack Helbig

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