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Theater Review: “American Buffalo"

“American Buffalo” plays through December 7, 2019 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center, 930 Tenth Ave., downtown.
Photo credit:
Daren Scott

It’s a story of a couple of minor-league crooks planning a revenge heist. Backyard presents this funny and profane American classic through Dec. 7 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center. Rosina Reynolds directs.

Donny (Francis Gercke), proprietor of a cluttered junk resale shop, has sold a buffalo head nickel for $90, but now thinks it’s worth a good deal more and wants it back.

He enlists young gofer Bobby (remarkable newcomer Marcel Ferrin) for the heist. The kid gets off to a bad start with a screwup: leaving his stakeout post outside the mark’s house and returning to the shop.

When the third character arrives, the sparks start to fly. This is explosive misogynist Teach (Richard Baird), raging on about a supposed slight from the unseen Ruth and Grace. Teach is the type who almost always has something bad to say about somebody. He bloviates about free enterprise, but operates on the principle that the end justifies the means.

These characters are typical Mamet types: socially unconnected, competitive, greedy and lacking in ambition. Bobby regards Don as a father figure. Don has few pretensions but can be greedy. He does, however, show at least a spark of humanity. Teach represents the worst aspects of American capitalism.

The rat-a-tat conversational style Mamet uses (now known as Mametspeak) can be off-putting at first but becomes almost hypnotic after a while.

This cast is terrific. Baird is almost frightening just in his delivery; you wouldn’t want to meet Teach in a dark alley. Gercke is almost appealing as Don. More human than Teach but just as lacking in ambition and prey to greed, he just wants to make a living.

The find here is young Marcel Ferrin, a Southwestern College student in his first professional production. He is terrific as eager apprentice Bobby, and holds his own with two of the area’s best actors. It’s a memorable performance.

Director Rosina Reynolds makes sure the cast keeps the conversational balls in the air and the pacing brisk.

Scenic designer Tony Cucuzzella creates the right atmosphere with Don’s wonderfully cluttered shop. Joel Britt and Mason Pilevsky contribute fine lighting and sound designs, respectively.

The implied (and actual) violence of “American Buffalo” make it a bit difficult to watch (though Mamet does lace it with considerable humor), and Backyard Renaissance gives us a fine production.

The details

“American Buffalo” plays through December 7, 2019 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center, 930 Tenth Ave., downtown.