'American Buffalo' gets up close and personal
First, while sitting out in front of Dorset Playhouse enjoying coffee and brownies, in sauntered Treat Williams, the show's headliner, from the gravel parking lot. This was about 30 minutes before curtain, and he was relaxed and totally unnoticed — something not found in New York or Los Angeles.
Then, during the show, Rubin sat in the back of the theatre three seats to my left, frantically taking notes the entire show, and sharing observations, not to be divulged here, with his crew members.
This was totally in line with the intimacy of Mamet's play. We find ourselves in a Chicago junk shop, Don's Resale, where owner Donny Dubrow (Stephen Adly Guirgis) realized he undersold an American Buffalo nickel to a customer, and schemes to get it back through burglary.
His simple-minded and heroin-addicted sidekick Bobby (Oliver Palmer) is sent to case the customer's home for an opportune time to strike. Meanwhile, card-playing partner Walter "Teach" Cole (Treat Williams) wants a piece of the action, insisting he be allowed to take on the heist. As time progresses, it becomes apparent that everyone is in over their heads.
Outside of three line hesitations which needed prompts, Rubin had his players ready to deliver an emotionally-charged performance.
Williams brought his star power with him to tiny Dorset, which seems to be a habit these days. I've always found him to be well suited for more soft-spoken and thoughtful roles such as his successful run as Dr. Andy Brown in TV's "Everwood" (2002-2006).
But here, his Teach was at once seedy, belligerent, shallow and passionate. It was a dynamic combination which gave audiences a rare look up close at Williams' versatility.
Palmer, making his Dorset and regional debut, did a masterful job of hemming, hawing, twitching and almost losing his way into our psyches, in the same manner one could imagine a real-life Bobby grappling with insecurity, addiction, and fear. It was at once uncomfortable and revealing to watch played out, and Palmer deserves great credit for that.
Guirgis brought his own star power as a 2015 Pulitzer-winning playwright, who was, after a long period, returning to his first love of acting. His was a resounding reunion on that side of the curtain, marked with such success that his Donny was able to remain the play's central character even in the face of Williams' strong presence. Welcome home, Mr. Guirgis.
The play was peppered throughout by Mamet's profane poetry of dialogue, which, given the characters, did not seem out of place at all - and I'm decidedly not a fan of excessive profanity in theatre. But here, it works and it fits.
Also, the show ran 1 hour and 55 minutes, which included a near-20 minute intermission. The actual acting time was 95 minutes, and while some wonder why the show just doesn't run as one continuous piece, it's because the intermission nicely breaks up the two acts in time from noon to midnight, and thus the tone of the story. So while it might make a short work longer than it should be, it, too, works.
Costumes by Kate Fry, lights by Stephen Strawbridge, sound by Ryan Rumery and stage management by Sarah Perlin all excelled. Michael Toomey's fight choreography was highly stylized and affected, and Chris Barreca's Spartan set design most importantly included two full rows of seats repositioned up on the extended stage, which made for about as close to seeing theatre in the round as one can get in Dorset Playhouse — a very nice touch!
"American Buffalo" is a highly acclaimed play which has had numerous revivals since its 1975 inception. But the Dorset production is all about the acting and intimacy of the experience. Both of these latter aspects are more than enough reason to close out your summer stock with Mamet's classic piece of Americana.
"American Buffalo" will run through Sep. 2 at Dorset Theatre Festival, 104 Cheney Rd., Dorset, Vt. Info: 802-867-2223 or dorsettheatrefestival.org.
Reach award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias at firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Telly Halkias.
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