Friendship is marvelous – but can it survive the promise of a big payday? Taking place over a single day, David Mamet’s classic play American Buffalo tells the story of three lowlifes who operate out of a Chicago junk shop in the mid-1970s. The owner, Donny Dubrow (played by Joey Ouellette), is a gruff man seething over a coin collector who swindled him out of a valuable American Buffalo nickel. He and his young protégé, recovering junkie Bobby (played by Seamus Tokol) plot to steal the coin back from the collector – along with every other rare coin he owns. But the bond between them is threatened by the arrival of twitchy con man Teach (played by Mark Lefebvre), who wants a piece of the action – and doesn’t trust Bobby.
When it premiered in 1975, American Buffalo shocked audiences and critics with its brutal intensity, profane language, and unfiltered portrayal of life in the underclass. But over the years it’s not only won numerous awards and attracted many of the best actors of stage and screen, it’s also now regarded as one of the great works of American theatre, praised for its unflinching commentary on the destructive effects of capitalism on the truly meaningful aspects of human life: loyalty, friendship, even love. The American Dream is revealed as a delusion that promises power in exchange for greed, only to leave people floundering in failure.
The location of the story – Donny Dubrow’s junk shop – is as much a character as the three men inside. Post Productions’ set (designed by Matthew Burgess) is a worn-out husk packed with the detritus of consumer life: trinkets, souvenirs, heirlooms, and all manner of consumer goods that once lured people in with some sort of promise, only to be tossed aside when the money had been spent and the lustre had faded away. This is the end result of consumer culture – bits and pieces of wasted resources tossed about in chaos, disconnected from real life, waiting to be sold to new suckers. The characters in American Buffalo, though surrounded by evidence they’re being swindled by a false god, can’t see it for what it is.
The ethic of greed, Mamet demonstrates, poisons society via its effects on individual minds. It leads us to forgo human connections in favour of something always out of reach – whether we call it power, status, or success. It sows mistrust, because once we come to accept it we start to see our friends and neighbours as competitors; we become motivated to “beat” them at the game of commerce. And we start to believe they’re out to beat us.
They may say otherwise but, hey, that’s what a clever competitor would say, isn’t it?
Post Productions will present David Mamet’s American Buffalo at The Shadowbox Theatre on July 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19 and 20. 8:00 PM (doors open 7:30). Tickets are available for $25 (tax included) online at postproductionswindsor.ca or cash at the door while supplies last.