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picture - American BuffaloTheater Review

by Andrew Turner

published November 26, 2008


American Buffalo

played on Broadway for one week at The Belasco Theatre

closed on November 23; we present this review for posterity


There’s something horribly compelling about a well-done David Mamet play. It’s like watching a lobster in a pot of boiling water. You don’t particularly like or identify with the lobster, and you’re pretty sure the outcome won’t be pleasant. And yet, as it thrashes and shrieks its way to its inevitable end, you can’t help but watch.  With the Broadway revival of Mamet’s 1976 American Buffalo and its star-studded cast of Cedric the Entertainer, Haley Joel Osment and John Leguizamo, it’s easy to get your hopes up for a gourmet meal. They’re big names with big talent, adept in the niches they’ve carved for themselves.


As it happens, the only one in his element is Leguizamo. He plays Teach, a foul-mouthed, scheming hood. It’s a perfect role for Leguizamo, who’s sworn his way to stardom in such blockbusters as Carlito’s Way and Righteous Hood. When Teach hears of a heist involving a rare and valuable Buffalo nickel, he horns his way in on the action in his typical brash and combustible manner.  Sadly, he finds very little kindling.  Definitely not in the role of Bobby, played by an all-grown-up Haley Joel Osment (the kid who saw dead people in The Sixth Sense). Tired of playing precocious youngsters, Osment has landed himself the perfect anti-role. Bobby is a slovenly, slow-witted juvenile delinquent who schemes about as well as he shaves. When Teach muscles him out of the heist, he has no reaction at all. In fact, he spends most of the play staring down at his ratty shoes. We’re used to moving performances from Osment, but in this production, he’s about as emotional as Teflon.


But perhaps the most disappointing performance of all comes from Cedric the Entertainer. He plays Donny, the junk shop owner with a conscience. He’s the most complicated character of the trio, and an anomaly among Mamet’s typically power-hungry misanthropes. He tries to balance his affection for the slow-witted Bobby with what he thinks will be good for his floundering business. In his words, "there's business and there's friendship."  But it’s a balancing act that proves too difficult for the Broadway novice. Instead of conflicted, he just comes off as constipated. He anxiously paces around the stage for most of the production, stumbling through Mamet’s staccato script like a senile man in an unfamiliar neighborhood.


In a play like this, where there’s very little action (it’s not until the very end that we get a nice, swift, antique iron to the face), everything depends on tension.  We, in turn, depend on director Robert Falls to conjure it up.  And … it’s just not there. Leguizamo, Osment and Entertainer never find a way to connect.  As a result, the water never rises to a boil; so instead of a creamy lobster bisque spiked with verbal Tabasco, we’re given moldy, greasy, over-breaded fish sticks.


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