American Buffalo | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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On the wall of the bric-a-brac-packed Wrigleyville junk shop created by designer Kevin Snow as the setting for David Mamet's darkly comic Chicago classic American Buffalo, there is a sign. It says "THINK." It's the same sign that dominates countless corporate offices--and it's ignored as routinely by Mamet's characters, a trio of small-time con artists, as it usually is by the traders, lawyers, and merger-and-acquisition specialists whose acquisitive aggression this play satirizes. Written in the mid-70s, American Buffalo remains as harshly illuminating as a naked light bulb as it draws parallels between white-collar business methods and the dynamics of dependency and deceit that exist among its low-life characters. In this staging by Mike Nussbaum, those dynamics are powerfully played by Kevin Hurley as Bobby, the pathetic little burnout trying to emulate his amoral elders; Larry Brandenburg as Donny, the shop owner and would-be father figure whose ineffectuality sets the stage for disaster, and Gary Cole as Teach (as in "Those who cant do..."), the hard-ass, hot-wired, would-be white knight whose need to control and penchant for violent outbursts are matched by his lack of skill and sense. Pulsing with pent-up rage and macho vanity, Cole uses a viscerally compelling gestural language of intimidation and placation to complement the highly stylized gutter poetry that permeates Mamet's script; against Cole's high-strung energy, Hurley's almost paralytic physical fragility is a memorable metaphor for the vulnerability of decent instincts in a world dominated by brute strength and brutal instincts. Composer-instrumentalist Paul Mertens provides the offstage saxophone music, which adds a fittingly noir mood to the production. Remains Theatre, through June 30. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5:30 and 9 PM; Sundays, 3 and 7 PM. $10.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steve Leonard.

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