On April 4, 2010, I was proud to see the play American Buffalo by David Mamet at our very own Meramec Theater, where the small cast of three performed within the confines of a little, rickety pawnshop that was cluttered with antiques. Within the play, Donny Dubow, the supposed owner of the shop, unknowingly stumbled upon a highly valuable buffalo nickel, which he eventually sold to a stranger for only ninety dollars.
When he learned that the coin was worth much more, Don gathered his friends, Bobby and Teach, to plan a heist to get the coin back into their possession.
Mamet’s spectacular use of action and dialogue expertly exhibited all three character’s unique personalities, but the story didn’t come alive until the second act. Donny’s constant concern for Bobby’s health made Don appear to be a good man, who cared for others more than he did himself. For example, when Bobby mentioned that he had skipped breakfast that morning, Don gave him a wad of cash and persisted that he bought himself some food.
He even pressed Bobby to get something healthy to eat much like a parent would do to their child. He said, “You can’t live on coffee, and you can’t live on cigarettes.Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. ” Even though the second line is a tad cliche, these lines show that Don is compassionate and that he truly cares about Bobby’s well-being. Bobby’s character obviously had some sort of mental problem, but there was never any talk about his condition. His idiosyncrasies and mannerisms exhibited his handicap without having one of the other characters simply blurt out the word “retard. ” For example, Bobby had a difficult time processing simple questions and following along with everyday conversations.He would either reply with short, simple answers or proceed to stutter the word “yeah” in a sluggish tone.
His hands always remained jammed deep into his pockets, and he constantly stared down at his feet with his tongue jabbing into the inside of his cheek. Bobby’s awkward body language and his somewhat childish dialogue was all the audience needed to see that Bobby was a little slow. Walter “Teach” Cole appeared to be quite the opposite. His vulgar dialogue and boorish behavior revealed him to be a complete asshole.
Every sentence that spilled from his lips was littered with curse words and a crude sense of humor that always seemed to put other people down. For instance, in the beginning of the second act, he barged in the door, shouting “cock sucking fuck head,” and when Don had mentioned one of his many acquaintances, Teach simply replied, “guys like that I like to fuck their wives. ” Also, when Bobby was quietly sitting on a dusty ottoman in front of a large, lounge chair, Teach jumped into the chair and kicked Bobby in the back, sending him to the floor.Even though the elderly people in the front row didn’t appreciate his dirty mouth or crude behavior, I believe that Teach’s character was used to keep the audience’s eyes glued to the stage much like an intriguing line or hook in the opening paragraph of a good story.
Even though the characters in American Buffalo were unique and well written, the first act bored the audience with mundane dialogue. The actors took turns pacing back and forth through the piles of junk, sitting in random chairs that were scattered throughout the shop, and conversing over tedious everyday things such as breakfast or the chance of rain.I believe the majority of the dialogue was meant for the audience get to know each individual character, but it rarely seemed to ever connect with a major conflict. Don, Bobby, and Teach would ramble on and on about a card game that took place the night before or plan a heist that never actually happened. In an attempt to be entertained, the audience spent the majority of Act One watching Bobby slowly eat a piece of pie or stare aimlessly at the ceiling, even when he didn’t have any lines.
The audience wanted action, and Bobby was the only one that delivered.Act Two was chock-full of intense action and deeply emotional dialogue. When the lights came on and the play continued, the sound of rain and a hint of thunder echoed throughout the room and Bobby entered from behind the audience with his hair wet and his jeans tattered. He began spitting out sporadic bursts of short sentences in between gasps for breath, which brilliantly exhibited Bobby’s distress with some well structured dialogue. Teach suddenly grew hostile. He then slammed a metal lunch box over Bobby’s head and proceeded to knock over tables of antiques.
He even threw an old clock into the top of the front counter, sending bits of glass all over the stage. I understand that Act One may have been necessary to build the play up to such a climactic ending, but American Buffalo showed me just how effective a great ending can have on its viewers. American Buffalo has opened my eyes and shined a much needed light on my perspective of writing a first-class story. It’s hard to believe that less than a week ago I viewed literature as purely a glorified way to play with words and bend my readers’ thoughts of the world, but American Buffalo rattled my brain and knocked some sense into me.
It taught me just how short people’s attention spans truly are, and I’m no exception. Act One nearly put me to sleep. Don’t get me wrong. David Mamet is a fantastic writer, who exhibited Don, Bobby, and Teach’s unique personalities through some extraordinarily lifelike dialogue, but real life conversations can be quite dull at times. People tend to talk in circles and repeat snippets of each other’s responses. Drama and fiction aren’t real, but it is the writer’s job to make the story feel real while keeping people interested with some action and a compelling conflict.