There is a certain musical cadence to a David Mamet piece; if the cast doesn’t find the right rhythm to make this hyper literate, profanity peppered dialogue flow then the story never quite comes together. Luckily, AMERICAN BUFFALO, currently playing at 10th Avenue Arts by Backyard Renaissance through December 7th is performed so well by this pitch perfect cast that the whole thing sings.
At first, everything looks fairly straight forward. Don (Francis Gercke) the owner of a junks tore makes a plan to steal back a buffalo nickel he sold to a customer but now thinks he can get more for on the market. He has tasked Bob (Marcel Ferrin), a young and trusting protégé with watching the customer’s movements so they can break in to his place. But Don finds himself slowly convinced by his friend, a persuasive if increasingly erratic fellow card player named Teach (Richard Baird) that Bob doesn’t have the experience to pull this off and to instead have Teach take over that role in the plan.
As the tensions climb, plans unwind, and desperation means mistakes are made as trust and friendship are tested to their limits.
The play is an intense study in friendship and betrayal, where “business” can mean all manner of things, and how anyone can survive the urban jungle of American capitalism. That sounds heavy, but this play also has a strong vein of comedy that runs through it; with the cross talk, twitches, mannerisms, and circular logic – it could be a comedy if the characters made some different decisions.
Gercke makes watching Don’s thought process interesting as the he struggles puts pieces together, make decisions, and try to rationalize betraying Bob’s trust, all while under the constant verbal barrage from Teach.
Baird as Teach is a whirling dervish of flashy, fast talking energy, who paces the small shop like a caged tiger. He claims his terrain and upper hand through quickly changing mood swings, and swagger. Baird’s Teach is perpetually offended by something or someone and his self-delusion tells him he is never at fault anything. Lacking empathy, trust, or control Teach compensates with cruelty, and an unwavering belief in everything he states regardless of proof otherwise.
Ferrin is sweetly sympathetic as the trusting Bob, who is dependent on Don for both some common sense advice (eat breakfast every day) as well as a job to make some money. Bob wants to impress, but he’s just not smart enough to see the danger coming towards him until much too late.
Directed by Rosina Reynolds, this production is meticulous in its details and it pays off in this powerful portrayal of betrayal for profit.
AMERICAN BUFFALO is playing at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center through December 7th by Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company. For show time and ticket information go to www.backyardrenaissance.com