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American Buffalo

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A: David Mamet Pf: 1975, Chicago Pb: 1977 G: Com. in 2 acts S: Don's shop in a Midwest town, 1970s C: 3mDon Dubrow, the owner of a rundown ‘resale shop’ (i.e. junkshop), has two friends: Bob, a simple character who runs errands for Don, and Walter Cole (‘Teach’), an individual of barely suppressed anger. Don is angry because he sold a buffalo-head nickel to a customer for $90 and now thinks it must be worth much more, so he plans to steal it back together with his whole coin collection, especially as Bob has reported that the customer has gone on holiday. When Teach learns that Bob is being sent to steal it, he insists that Bob is not up to the job, and that he ought to do it. Bob is told that the break-in has been postponed, and, when he is gone, Don and Teach plan the burglary for that night. Don now insists that they should invite Fletcher, a smart operator whom Don admires, in on the action. That night Bob arrives unexpectedly, wanting to sell a buffalo nickel that he has found. Teach comes, but there is no sign of Fletcher. Bob is sent away with $20 for his nickel. Teach becomes indignant that he is being made to wait for Fletcher, who, he claims, cheats at poker. To Don's dismay, Teach produces a revolver and plans to go off to do the job alone. Suddenly Bob reappears with the news that Fletcher has been mugged and is now in hospital. Don and Teach think he is lying and presume that Bob and Fletcher have stolen the collection themselves. Don hits Bob over the head. However, Bob was telling the truth about Fletcher, but now sheepishly admits that he bought his buffalo nickel for $50 to replace the one that Don sold. Teach is so outraged that he begins smashing up the shop. Bob then confesses that he lied about seeing the purchaser of the original nickel leaving his home. Teach goes to get a car to take Bob to hospital.

A: David Mamet Pf: 1975, Chicago Pb: 1977 G: Com. in 2 acts S: Don's shop in a Midwest town, 1970s C: 3m

Eschewing the theatrical fireworks of Albee and Shepard, Mamet offers a searching analysis of American life by recreating with remarkable skill the earthy vernacular of ordinary Americans rather as Pinter did for Londoners. These characters are concerned with status, loyalty, fairness, and truth, while constantly undermining these concerns with the spiritual vacuity of their lives. The rough dialogue and shocking violence caused controversy when American Buffalo, one of Mamet's finest plays, was staged on Broadway in 1977 and at London's National Theatre in 1978, but it established the writer as a significant new force in American theatre.

Reference entries

David Mamet (b. 1947) American dramatist, director, and screenwriter