Sunday, November 9, 2008

My review of David Mamet's American Buffalo on Broadway

I finally saw American Buffalo last night. I was supposed to go to a dress rehearsal two weeks ago but some things came up and I was unable to attend. So last night, while the show is still in previews, I made my way to the Belasco Theatre on 44th, the “wrong side of Broadway”.

I should note (for those living under a rock) that American Buffalo is a David Mamet play. Mamet is considered one of the premiere playwrights of our time. His plays are often infused with both acerbic dialogue and a dizzying tempo. Such characteristics require the full and continuous attention of the audience lest they miss a thing.

The current revival of American Buffalo on Broadway stars Cedric the Entertainer, John Leguizamo, Haley Joel Osment and is directed by the legendary Robert Falls. The setting, Don’s Resale Shop – a junkshop, was designed by the inimitable three time Tony Award winner Santo Loquasto.

So on with the show.

It is clearly evident from the start who among the three principals is the Broadway veteran. While Cedric and Haley do a respectable job, they are no match for John. He spits out “Mamet-speak” so effortlessly that he makes it look easy. Cedric and Haley, on the other hand, both seem to struggle with letting go of the nuances of screen acting for the hyper-enunciation, in both word and form, that is required on stage. Also, I can't imagine how daunting it must be to make your Broadway debut with American Buffalo. There is so much dialogue. In fact, Cedric is on stage the entire play!

The limitations of both Cedric and Haley are in no way detrimental to the show and, in fact, I believe it is something they will be able to correct as they grow into their respective roles. For instance, Haley’s character, Bobby, is a heroin addict, and though Haley does an admirable job in his attempt to convey the nervous tics of an addict, his mannerisms on stage appear at times simply nervous. What would certainly be conveyed through the intimacy of the screen is instead not so apparent on the enormity of the stage.

Also there were quite a few lines dropped as well as one line added after a door malfunctioned that clearly threw Cedric off. These lines, both dropped and adlibbed, are not devastating and I doubt the audience even noticed.

But hey, this is exactly what previews are for. None of the negatives of the show are insurmountable and even with their presence, the show holds up quite well. Will it be able to escape the comparisons, fair or unfair, of Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow, also currently on Broadway? Probably not. We will find out next week.

But I certainly hope the critics will refrain from an either/or mentality with regards to American Buffalo and Speed-the-Plow. The whole “If you have to pick which Mamet play to go see this season go see…” is a bit over the top . Such mutual exclusivity is not fair since both shows are quite different.

I imagine that Mamet fans will try and see both. And far more people will buy tickets for the leads, without a clue as to who Mamet even is.

My final analysis is that the show is worth the money. It has its wrinkles and it feels a bit strained at times but I have no doubt that the problems are so minor that they can (and should) be worked out by opening night.

As a side note, backstage I had the opportunity to meet Haley Joel Osment. He is extremely nice, genuinely humble and has not let fame go to his head.

Go see it! And tell ‘em I sent ‘ya.


Anonymous said...

I will be in New York in two weeks and want to AB. Thanks for the review.

Who Me? said...

Yay! The review...FINALLY!

Buttah said...

Can't wait to see it. I adore JL

Secret A said...

Who knew jm was a Mamet fan? Makes me love you more

John said...

My partner and I are seeing it tonight, I'm looking forward to it. You write very well, and the review was very engaging. Thanks for a good read, and an enjoyable review.

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