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"American Buffalo"

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The Atlantic Theater Company, in its David Mamet retrospective, has reached American Buffalo, widely considered Mamet's best. It concerns three Chicago crooks planning a petty heist as they talk that characteristic Mametian lingo fraught with pseudo-meaningful implications, self-serving riffs, and proliferating obscenities. There is Don, owner of a baroquely cluttered junk shop, who acts the circumspect businessman and tries to guide the young, eager but inept Bobby into becoming his protégé. And there is Teach, the volatile, violent, self-aggrandizing criminal who keeps mouthing bromides about sound business.

The play is to be perceived as a satire on big business, which these piddling rogues try to emulate and, in their puny way, supposedly mirror. The suggested equation is questionable, and there is nothing likable about any character; yet as an actors' exercise, the play succeeds. We get flawless work from the archetypal Mametian, William H. Macy, as Teach; the seasoned character actor Philip Baker Hall as Don; and the promising Mark Webber as Bobby. There is onstage destruction similar to that in True West, which, along with the presence of two popular movie actors, should assure the play's partly deserved success.


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