It's 1975 and in a rundown part of Chicago a heist is being planned. The Buffalo in the title refers to a nickel that three guys would dearly love to get their hands on. In their minds it has value and its retrieval is well worth pursuing. Writer David Mamet, a master of the profane, offers insight into the lives of such thieves. The blackly comic overtones are quite pronounced, yet there is an element of real danger as well. Throw these two notions together and a compelling story should unfold before our eyes.
Some people talk a good game without ever stepping up to the plate. In 'American Buffalo', there is a lot of talk about how the heist is going to go down. Chief planner is Don (McGinley), who owns a second-hand shop, situated in a seedy part of town. The clutter he has amassed is of immense pride to him and the play opens with various accounts of how this 'success' story came to pass. Listening attentively is Don's protégé Bobby (Gleeson), who recently blotted his copybook when he allowed a customer get the better of Don in a deal that involved a buffalo nickel. Together, they now plan to steal it back.
Teach (Gillen), a foul mouthed hustler, also wants a piece of the action and reckons that Bobby is not up to the job. Teach is the embodiment of negativity; he seems to hate everybody around him and especially those who have made a success out of life. Yet, through his own actions and words, he craves similar success and so this confused and angry individual now assumes the leading role in trying to successfully pull off this latest assignment.
As with any good heist story, things don't work out to plan. Who can be trusted? Is there really honour amongst thieves? These questions are inherent in the text – and with most 'talky' plays it is the things that are not said that add to the intrigue. Mamet's puzzle is watchable, though in this production you feel there is something missing that would have made the endeavour more compelling.
There are elements of danger – Teach does strike Bobby – but not enough to fully show the frustration of men who occupy positions on the margins of society. We never really feel their exasperation – their potential to inflict much harm and suffering. Mark Brokaw's direction seemed to place greater emphasis on the comedic elements of the script, while also presenting Don and Bobby as overly dour individuals.
That said, the actors delivered Mamet's lines with ease and competence; it is a text that lacks a natural rhythm, that doesn't sit easily with speech patterns on this side of the Atlantic. And while this challenge was met, the overall effect is somewhat underwhelming, despite an energised and expressive performance from Aidan Gillen and Alexander Dodge's wonderfully cluttered set.