Mamet's dark comedy 'American Buffalo' well-staged at Towsontowne

May 21, 1992|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Contributing Writer

The trials and tribulations of petty thieves are the basis of David Mamet's black comedy-drama, "American Buffalo," currently playing at the Towsontowne Arena Theatre through May 27.

Strong language and violence characterize Mamet's piece. The play won the 1977 New York Drama Critics Best Play award and earned the author a prestigious place on the list of contemporary American playwrights.

Performed on the stage of the Towsontowne Dinner Theater Mondays through Wednesdays ("Can Can" is playing Thursdays through Sundays), this highly charged work centers on three of life's outcasts who have formed a strong dependency on each other.

The local version has been directed with compassion and a sharp sense of comic reality by Robert Clingan, one of the area's up-and-coming directors. The performances, though lacking in spontaneity in the first act on a recent night, picked up considerably in the second act.

The power and force of the roles as executed by Richard Jackson, Craig Newell and Ken Sabel kept the audience riveted until the final, hair-raising moments.

The story unfolds in Don's (Sabel) junk-filled resale shop. Bob (Newell), a slow-witted young man, has dropped by. Soon the other buddy, a nervous, paranoid type named Teach (Jackson), also drops in.

Teach has a great chip on his shoulder. He regales his friends with an endless litany of imagined wrongs. Hyperactive and tough, Teach nevertheless has a streak of vulnerability which becomes apparent in the second act. This is when Jackson hits the peak of his excellent performance.

All are barely managing a sleazy existence and they keep hoping for a series of "big jobs." The current "big job" is a valuable coin which they hope to steal and sell to a collector for a tidy profit.

How they wheel and deal and plot the robbery makes for some funny moments. Even in its tragedy and subsequent violence, the ridiculousness of man's inability to win against the odds carries with it a dark humor.

"American Buffalo" at the Towsontowne Arena is solid, theatrical entertainment.

*

An outstanding version of Richard Greenberg's sophisticated, contemporary comedy, "Eastern Standard," is making its Baltimore premiere at the Vagabond Theatre through June 14.

The play, which imparts incisive commentaries on our times, is both brilliantly witty and moving. Produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1988, the play was so well received it was moved to Broadway the following year.

Anne B. Mulligan heads a fine cast which has been tightly directed by Steve Goldklang. Mulligan is hilarious and wonderfully touching as a disoriented bag lady who disrupts and changes the lives of four neurotic, self-centered New Yorkers.

The four have repeatedly pursued a pattern of ill-fated love affairs.

This delightful play is like a series of amusing New Yorker cartoons etched with serious overtones. There are promises implied and some, sadly, are never kept.

The agony of unrequited love, coping with a fatal disease and the growth from selfish preoccupation into responsible social action is the basis of this intellectual comedy.

Patrick Martyn gives a smashing performance as Drew, a neurotic, gay artist who uses his caustic humor as a weapon and a defense. William Runnebaum is Peter, the love of Drew's life who is slowly dying. Runnebaum gives a strong, stoic performance.

Chris Merriman does nicely as an insecure but genuine person in love with Peter's self-serving sister, Phoebe. Vivian Hasbrook is Phoebe. She imbues her unlikable role with the proper vacillating emotions tinged with a faint glow of dawning understanding.

Laura McFarland is always an extremely convincing actress and she is believable as Ellen, the bleeding-heart waitress who befriends May. But McFarland is too pragmatic. There is not enough naive, pathetic eagerness for acceptance in her characterization.

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