Kelly Daniels’ vision of three, down-nearly-out men trying to steal, cheat and lie their idea of a decent living is a theatrical gem. Known already for her gritty choices and presentation of the human-experience unlocked (cross-references below), David Mamet’s American Buffalo seems as fresh and relevant today as at its première more than three decades ago and the next logical step in the development of Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects.
The single-set drama (“A junkshop”—marvellously detailed by Matt Flawn where only the feeling of newness and a pristine ashtray on the card table betray the grime and dust that permeate the desperate circumstances) is rife with metaphor on many planes and types. Not the least of which are the characters who—like the goods around them—have been abandoned by the mainstream and regularly offered for a song just to survive another day of disillusionment.
The actors are superb. Brian Paul playing proprietor Don excels as the gentle referee between his wayward ward, Bobby (Jason Cadieux) and hot-headed partner in crime, Teach (Ric Reid). In many ways, this role is the toughest, lacking the sharper action/outward-characterization of the memory-addled youth and his cash-strapped tormentor. Paul wisely lets his own inner torment simmer, becoming the voice of reason even as the latest get-rich-quick plan collapses around him. Due to that subtle delivery, the final page cuts deeper than ever.
Cadieux renders Bobby with just the right mix of impish naïveté and unrepentant double crosses that combine to—momentarily—make his brutal comeuppance seem deserved until the reality of his pitiful existence is recalled. Like disenfranchised youth everywhere, the road ahead seems unbearably bleak.
Teach: Then let’s make this clear: Loyalty does not mean shit in a situation like this; I don’t know what you and them are up to, and I do not care, but only you come clean with us. (Italics are Mamet’s)
Lines such as this (virtually all of the long speeches come from Teach) are spat out by Reid with clarity, rhythm and insight that propel the events forward on an emotional wave of inevitability that never falls off track. To their credit, both Cadieux and Paul thrust and parry as required, instinctively knowing when a beat would be better than an interruption. Near the end of the run, this compelling display of dialogue wizardry should be recorded for the benefit of those who can’t yet find the magic of incorporating comic timing with searing narrative.
At the opening night performance, several of the audience found humour in the least likely places—more probably revealing their discomfort when the truth got too close. A few puzzles remain insofar as Teach is concerned. Making much of bringing a gun along for the heist, it still plays strange that instead of a pistol whipping, the enraged thief is instructed to use “grab a nearby object” to vent his anger. Given the long-ago era (when coffee went for 37 cents), city (Chicago) and type of business, it seems unbelievable that this resale emporium has no hat or umbrella to protect Teach from the elements. But that’s on purpose, setting up the paper-hat gag that Reid delivered with aplomb. The resulting peals of laughter seemed at odds with the havoc piled up around it, making one wonder how the work might unfold had Mamet crafted a slier bit of business to send Teach into the night.
Kudos to Daniels for remaining true to the text, inspiring the men to dig far beneath the surface and letting the action talk so convincingly. With performances such as this, the appetite for Of Mice and Men (George: Reid; Lennie: Cadieux) is most assuredly whetted. JWR