Wednesday, November 19, 2008

American Buffalo


By David Mamet. Dir. Robert Falls. Belasco Theatre. (CLOSED)

Though hardly the worst-reviewed Broadway bow of the season (hello, To Be or Not To Be), Robert Falls' star-studded, relatively subdued revival of Mamet's modern classic, suffering by comparison to the sparkling revival of Speed-the-Plow and from particularly harsh and/or disappointed reviews from many though not all of the higher-profile critics, closed after barely a week on the Main Stem. F***in' Broadway.

Philadelphia Inquirer
(Howard Shapiro) Witnessing the perfect Broadway revival of David Mamet's terse and taut American Buffalo is like putting yourself in the middle of a locker-room towel fight...Staged with appropriate brio by Robert Falls...His knock-'em-dead interpretation of the play, which he moves along the stage like a swift current caught abruptly in an eddy, underscores its heady mix of comedy and dread, enhanced by Santo Loquasto's flamboyant junk-shop set.

Hartford Courant A
(Malcolm Johnson) With John Leguizamo and Cedric the Entertainer as two leads, David Mamet's American Buffalo becomes a comedy, a farce that brims with laughs as staged by Robert Falls...American Buffalo stands as the seminal Mamet play, a portrait of men at war with themselves...Falls' direction mirrors the shifting lighting. At the start, absurdist comedy rules, even with Teach's sexist rant against Ruthie. But in the end, when Teach's frustration ends in mayhem and destruction, the production takes on a much darker, acrid tone.

USA Today A-
(Elysa Gardner) Director Robert Falls has done his homework. Approaching Mamet's celebrated account of three losers bound by complementary failings, Falls and his cast ease the pace and intensity of the distinctly jazzy dialogue rhythms and emphasize the underlying pathos that truly—more than the four-letter words or the sudden bursts of violence—makes this play disturbing. This isn't the most titillating American Buffalo you'll ever see, but I doubt that many productions have made the thwarted humanity of these men more accessible or moving.

Talkin' Broadway
(Matthew Murray) This production, as directed by Robert Falls, turns [the cast's] potential liabilities into major strengths. Leguizamo’s borderline-annoying back-alley whine and sensuous-with-a-smack attitude are close-fitting contrasts to the little-boy-lost innocence Osment hasn’t shed in the nine years since he rose to stardom in the film thriller The Sixth Sense. Cedric the Entertainer is just the right bridge between the two...Unlike in most Mamet productions, including the revival of Speed-the-Plow at the Barrymore, the actors aren’t even trying to spit out their words trippingly down their tongues. The people they’re playing are too far gone for that...So cunningly cast are the actors, and so adept are they at wringing a touching story of redemption from these men in their own personal economic crisis...that it’s a shame to have to report the work’s grander colors are muted.

TheaterMania B+
(David Finkle) An effective if not explosive revival...Requirements for the actors are complex, particularly for anyone playing the sinister but ultimately lame Teach, who's a prime example of how superb Mamet is at representing an illogical male mind at work. Leguizamo, abetted by a swipe of a mustache, gets the non sequiturs exactly right; but he misses the balance of sinister behavior masking no substance. Opposite him, the big-bellied, determinedly thoughtful Cedric and jittery, side-glancing Osment give fully-dimensional performances, which capably help raise the script to a high level.

Newsday B+
(Linda Winer) Enjoyable if not revelatory...There is less hot news here. On the other hand, this one has an exhilarating performance by John Leguizamo, who careens off Mamet's essence with a joy I missed in the oddly constricted [Speed-the-Plow]. Robert Falls...isn't blowing the lid off Mamet tradition in this straightforward production. From the start, Mamet's plays have been at least as much performance as plot. So not much happens, except the gorgeous patter profanity, the pulse-thumping stylized rhythms and mercilessly fantastical street-lumpen satire.

The Record B+
(Robert Feldberg) Under the direction of Robert Falls, the play is more balanced, funnier and more humane than the Broadway revival of 25 years ago. Al Pacino, who played Teach, gave that production more intensity, and a greater sense of danger. While less menacing, Leguizamo is very effective in his own style...Cedric the Entertainer, in his stage debut, gives a very good, quietly confident portrayal of the most rational of the threesome...In the least defined role, Osment does a decent job as Bobby...The surprising degree of warmth in this American Buffalo comes, in part, I think, from the diversity of the casting.

Time Out NY B
(David Cote) This brutally clownish paean to petty criminals and their pretzel morality doesn’t deliver the same shock as when it coldcocked Chicago and New York in 1976...Today, this intensely musical and bitterly comic play is still great fun to hear—and quote back to friends...Given that none of the actors—save possibly Leguizamo—are ideally cast, it says a lot about the play and Robert Falls’s staging that the evening is so enjoyable. Cedric is too monotonous as the softhearted Donny, and Osment—while looking every inch a dope—could use a dash of guile. Fortunately, Leguizamo’s facility with motormouthed verbiage comes in handy for Teach’s bilious riffs, though he is less effective in his moments of despair.

The Wall Street Journal B
(Terry Teachout) This isn't a perfect production, but it's worthy and definitely ought to be seen...Robert Falls, the director, should have prodded his cast to speed it up a bit. They're driving 55 in a 70 mph zone, and the first act sags in the middle as a result. But Santo Loquasto's junk-shop set, whose towering shelves look like prison walls, is just right, while Mamet's play is an ugly beauty, a hard-nosed piece of foul-mouthed poetry that hasn't aged a second since it first opened in 1975.

NY1 B-
(Roma Torre) It was original and raw 30 years ago. But now, unlike the buffalo nickel in its title, the play's value over time seems to have diminished...The casting is quite possibly the most interesting part of this production, which features two celebrities making Broadway debuts. Cedric the Entertainer and young Haley Joel Osment of Sixth Sense fame hold their own quite nicely alongside the stellar veteran John Leguizamo...Credit Robert Falls highly-professional production, with its rainbow casting to preserve some universality in a work that is clearly past its prime.

Total Theater B-
(Richmond Shepard) All shock value in Mamet’s naturalistic dialogue is absent, and the story of three losers planning to steal a coin collection, despite some funny phraseology, is reduced to rambling banter with emotional outbursts. John Leguizamo is exciting—a dynamo let loose, Cedric the Entertainer is an adequate junkstore owner, and Haley Joel Osment, an actor who is vivid on screen or television, playing the apprentice thief, is invisible—no impact...The physical staging by director Robert Falls keeps the play active and dynamic, the junk-filled set by Santo Loquasto is spectacular.

Chicago Tribune B-
(Chris Jones) Falls' production certainly does not lack for an emotional subtext. The play's act of violence is unusually shocking. C the E, who intentionally underplays, reveals a sense of loss of striking depth. Osment's Bobby wears his scrappy little heart on his snotty little sleeve. And Leguizamo, whose exciting verbosity more than matches anything Mamet can unleash, fires away on all cylinders...I feel a certain sense of loss when Mamet's early plays are removed so thoroughly from their original Chicago milieu and so unloosed from the actual language and behavior of the kind of low-ambition characters on whom they were modeled...Some of that prevails amid all the bravura and emotionalism of this revival.

Village Voice C+
(Michael Feingold) This classic study of crooks undone by their competing ideas of successful business should still have seemed the best play on Broadway. This was not its best production, though: In director Robert Falls's oddly mismatched cast, only Cedric the Entertainer, as pawnbroker and fence Donny Dubrow, conveyed the weight of potential menace that should infuse every minute. He deserved to be challenged by a far-scarier Teach than John Leguizamo's bright, almost perky reading of this extraordinary role provided. Like Haley Joel Osment's clean-cut Bobby, everything in Mamet's dangerous pawnshop suddenly became far too tidy.

Curtain Up C+
(Elyse Sommer) Leguizamo's dynamic physicality and cocky style...makes for an eminently watchable Teach. New to the stage TV celebrity Cedric the Entertainer is a credible Don; and TV and and film actor Haley Joel Osment, another stage newbie, actually intensifies Bobby's dim-wittedness to the point where we pity him. So why does this latest American Buffalo come off as competently staged and performed but lacking the snap, crackle and pop of this season's other Mamet revival, Speed-the-Plow? The problem is that the usually infallible director Robert Fall's has aimed for a naturalism that...for too much of the time translates the staccato Mamet-speak into plain-speak.

Entertainment Weekly C
(Gregory Kirschling) The problem with the current revival of American Buffalo, now playing on Broadway, is not only that there's nothing especially startling about the play anymore; what really hurts is the listless execution, which doesn't tap into the ugly beauties of the work. The three actors make up one of the stranger trios you'll ever see assembled on the New York stage...Three decades later, Buffalo is still an uneasy drama that queasily draws us in as dumb guys hatch a dumb plot, but these actors never find an exciting rhythm, and they leave us instead with an uneasy question: What's the point?

Back Stage C
(David Sheward) Director Robert Falls provides a solid, straightforward framework for Mamet's deceptively simple story. Unfortunately, his actors are not as perfectly balanced as the material. John Leguizamo lacks the demonic power Robert Duvall brought to Teach...Cedric the Entertainer['s] lack of theatre training is evident in his failure to provide a through-line for his character...As Bobby, the junkie junior partner of this sorry team, the former child star Haley Joel clearer in his intentions and therefore a weightier presence...How much richer this American Buffalo would have been had two-thirds of the cast concentrated on connections rather than comedy.

Bloomberg News C
(John Simon) Skillfully directed by Robert Falls, who has choreographed some arresting movements and imposed fascinating changes in tempo and dynamics. The actors squeeze everything possible out of their parts, Cedric, for example, managing to say “No” in peculiarly layered ways. There is even a vocal trio in the interplay of Cedric’s rumbling bass, Leguizamo’s whining, high-pitched tenor and Osment’s overeager or anxious countertenor. But put it all together and it spells blather of the peculiarly Mametian brand, in which obscenity and scatology sprout like mushrooms in damp, shady ground.

The Journal News C
(Jacques Le Sourd) For all the effort, what Falls doesn't quite pull off is the creation of a true acting ensemble, for what should be a fine-tuned acting trio. The casting approaches a stunt, and the stunt doesn't quite work.

AM New York C-
(Matt Windman) To our surprise, Robert Falls’ disappointing revival is undercooked and lifeless...It’s not clear whether the cast couldn’t handle the script or if Falls purposely slowed down the dialogue. As a result, Mamet’s exploration of desperate ambition and failed friendship feels underwhelming.

Variety C-
(David Rooney) Robert Falls' production drains much of the humor, urgency and anxiety from the piece, letting it amble along like an inflated actors' exercise in sustaining atmosphere without action...His naturalistic approach is not suited to Mamet's muscularly theatrical language. The actors too rarely get under their characters' skins to expose the bitter insecurity lurking there.

LA Times C-
(Charles McNulty) Robert Falls’ production, which opened Monday at the Belasco Theatre, doesn’t have much success offering new insights into the relationships of these small-time hoods who have a quaint moral code all their own. The hard to contain Mamet’s verbal vitriol with a realistic style that might be better suited to TV than the stage. The result is disappointingly juiceless, although there’s no denying that the characters’ collective desire to stretch the meaning of “free enterprise” could hardly be more timely.

New York C-
(Dan Kois) Despite Santo Loquasto’s incongruously majestic junk-shop set and an energetic second act, this is a mostly forgettable production of a play that’s a less scathing critique of capitalism than you might recall. Days later, all that sticks is the show’s cheeky first words: As the lights go down, a piped-in voice announces, “The cast, in accordance with Mr. Mamet, ask that you please turn off your fucking cell phones.”

Daily News D+
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Despite a starry cast...the tepid two-hour two-act, directed by Robert Falls, makes the story seem very slight, with all the danger and combustibility of a book of soggy matches...Because the story is so simply told, pitch-perfect casting is essential. Actors need to bring something truly special to these parts. In the showy role of the incendiary Teach...Leguizamo...makes the character his own with a one-two wallop of scary-funny. Osment...has the right vacancy behind his droopy eyes and enough twitchiness to make his character click. Though he's an appealing actor, Cedric the Entertainer is so sitcom-cuddly and cute, he simply lacks the needed edge to convince as Don.

NY Post D
(Barbara Hoffman) American Buffalo has all the profanity and none of the poetry. As directed by the usually estimable Robert Falls, with John Leguizamo, Cedric the Entertainer and Haley Joel Osment, it's flatter than a cow plop...Just before a recent preview, I met a 5-year-old girl in the ladies' restroom. "I'm seeing American Buffalo," she announced, to the shocked faces around her. Did she know what it's about? "Hunting!" she said.

NY Times D
(Ben Brantley) Ssssssssst. That whooshing noise coming from the Belasco Theater is the sound of the air being let out of David Mamet’s dialogue. Robert Falls’s deflated revival of Mr. Mamet’s American Buffalo...evokes the woeful image of a souped-up sports car’s flat tire, built for speed but going nowhere...If you’re choosing only one play by Mr. Mamet to see this season, Speed-the-Plow wins hands down.

(Michael Kuchwara) The four-letter words are intact but just about everything else is amiss in the slack, unsatisfying Broadway revival...The production...shrinks a play that already was small to begin with.

Philadelphia Inquirer A 13; Hartford Courant A 13; USA Today A- 12; Talkin' Broadway B+ 11; TheaterMania B+ 11; Newsday B+ 11; The Record B+ 11; TONY B 10; WSJ B 10; NY1 B- 9; Total Theater B- 9; Chicago Tribune B- 9; Village Voice C+ 8; Curtain Up C+ 8; Entertainment Weekly C 7; Back Stage C 7; Bloomberg News C 7; The Journal News C 7; New York C- 6; AM New York C- 6; Variety C- 6; LA Times C- 6; Daily News D+ 5; NY Post D 4; NY Times D 4; AP D 4; TOTAL: 214 / 26 = 8.23 (C+)

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