Superb American Buffalo at Acme Theater


baffalo3As much as I like community theater, I have to say that for this North Shore resident, Maynard’s Acme Theatre is a little outside my jurisdiction. But the opportunity to see Nancy Curran Willis direct David Mamet‘s American Buffalo last Saturday during the show’s opening weekend was one I just couldn’t pass up. The show runs through March 23, 2013.

Located in the basement of an old school building, Acme Theatre just may be the perfect venue to recreate Don Dubrow’s basement-level junk shop where all the action of American Buffalo takes place. The euphemistically named “Don’s Resale” is an organized clutter of reclaimed items. Lamps, stereos, trophies, bird cages, hats, typewriters, globes and discards of every description cram the shelves of three walls. Parked in one corner is a supermarket shopping cart overflowing with footwear. In the center of the stage is a glass case that holds jewelry, coins and other such valuables.

Sitting at a stage left card table in the opening scene, shop owner Don (played by James Barton) is gently but firmly berating young Bobby (Jordan DiGloria), who apologizes for messing up a job he has been assigned to do by Don. Soon Walter “Teach” Cole (Bill Stambaugh) bursts in and catches some of Don and Bobby’s conversation in between his own angry ranting about some perceived slight that just occurred at a nearby coffee shop. After Don sends Bobby out on an errand, Teach pressures Don into telling him what’s going on between him and Bobby.

buffalo1Don tells Teach about a guy who came into the store a week earlier and spotted an old buffalo nickel in the case. The customer asks Don how much he wants for the nickel. Don realizes he has no idea what it’s worth so he plays it cagey. “You tell me,” he responds. When the customer offers $50 for the coin, Don concludes it must be worth even more and demands $95, before selling it for $90. A few days later, the customer returns and leaves his card in case Don comes across any other “articles of interest.” Don now thinks he’s been had, concluding that the nickel must have been worth many times what he sold it for. So he has had Bobby stake out the customer’s house in preparation for a break-in in to steal the coin back.

When Teach hears this, he suggests that the target may have lots more worth stealing. He not only wants in on the action, he tries to convince Don to cut Bobby out of the job, saying he’s too unreliable. (Bobby may have a drug problem. He’s always asking Don for money for unspecified purposes.) Don, who feels a paternalistic responsibility toward Bobby, is reluctant to cut him out.

buffalo2American Buffalo is a about dishonor among thieves. All three characters view themselves as businessmen of a sort, and their ambition is exceeded only by their amorality. Between Don and Teach, Don is the more even-keeled, and he actually does run a business. He rationalizes plans to steal the coin back by convincing himself that he’s been ripped off. Teach is a like aggressive salesman with anger issues and an inflated sense of his own smarts and abilities. Bobby is just a kid trying to get his own needs met any way he can.

Ultimately, American Buffalo a study in loyalty, ambition and trust in a world where nothing is on the level and every interaction is a deal.

Bill Stambaugh has appeared in many productions directed by Willis and may have been born to play Teach Cole. He has the kind of stage presence and the facial expressiveness needed to fill out Teach’s tightly-wound, borderline psychotic character.

As Donny, Barton skillfully plays a man so beaten down by life that he’s willing to do almost anything to get ahead, while still clinging to a threadbare remnant of human decency.

Impressive newcomer Jordan DiGloria more than holds his own with the two more experienced actors. His Bobby is a likeable if naïve kid who finds himself in the crossfire between adults who are hardly role models.

Award winning director Nancy Curran Willis has once again mounted a community theater production that rivals most professional productions. Her casting, as usual, is pitch perfect. I will have a hard time imagining anyone else in the characters of Don, Teach and Bobby.

Whether you’re near Maynard or have to drive a ways as I did, don’t miss Acme Theater’s production of American Buffalo.

American Buffalo runs through March 23 at Acme Theater, 61 Summer Street, Maynard MA. Performances Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sunday 3/17 at 3 pm. For tickets, phone the box office at 978-823-0003.

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