As the opening number of this year’s KTS Fall Season, Mike Tucker’s rendition of American Buffalo does not disappoint. Written by David Mamet, the play follows a trio of men – Teach (Saunder Waterman), Bobby (Sam Hodgkins-Sumner) and Donny (Genny Dow) – in a junk shop over the course of a single day, as they scheme to try and steal back a precious American buffalo nickel that was bought from Donny, the store’s owner.
Right away, Tucker’s rendition strikes the right tone, as the stage is set from the start with various pieces of bric-a-brac, little keepsakes and empty beer cans. Even the choice of records, which is mirrored by the background playlist, seems authentic and tasteful. Tucker clearly knows his Mamet, and it shows in his stage direction.
The action of the play itself is darkly humorous and peppered with explosive invectives, moving seamlessly from comedy to intense dramatic bursts of emotion. It is quite a feat to carry Mamet’s very particular vocabulary with just three actors. Thankfully, these three particular actors did an exemplary job with the material.
Hodgkins-Sumner portrays a very vulnerable Bobby, one who seems acutely self-conscious and yet also entirely ignorant of his own place in the play’s structure. Although he’s never all that reliable, his actions always come from good intentions, and Sumner showcased just how much he cared for Donny.
Saunder Waterman’s portrayal of Teach – the second character of the group – is filled with a high-spirited, fiery energy. Entertainingly enough, this is not the first time I’ve seen Waterman perform American Buffalo, and he seems far better suited for the role of Teach. As the bitterest and most obstinate of the three, Teach ultimately commits the same mistake as the other two, and confuses business and friendship. Waterman does a masterful job of balancing Teach’s judgmental and insecure personas, and we see the tempered anger as a result.
But it’s Genny Dow’s portrayal of Donny that holds up the show. As the gruff, competent man, Dow’s performance anchors the others together and creates a cohesive whole. Truly, this play’s strongest card is its incredible cast dynamic: all three of the actors understand their characters and their respective relationships so well that the action feels effortless.
David Mamet’s Buffalo is ultimately a play about nothing, and yet throughout the two Acts, the audience gets a good look at struggles of life and death, and watches the brilliance of human pathos at work. Mike Tucker’s production really gets to the heart of Mamet’s conversation, and generates a must-see performance for the season.