I am twitching with excitement as I enter my favorite theatre in Seattle. I have been waiting to see David Mamet’s work on stage for longer than I would like to admit and this story of a junk shop heist gone awry is right up my alley. Let me set this up for you: Mamet, direction by Wilson Milam, Scenic Design by Eugene Lee, at the Rep…who wouldn’t get giddy from that sentence?! It’s a guaranteed night of theatrical success. This show does not disappoint.
As I took my seat, I notice there are chairs, lamps, picture frames hanging from the rafters. Old Coke crates and cardboard boxes litter the edges of the stage. I feel right at home. As the curtain rises the old familiar smell of dust and nicotine hit my nostrils and I am instantly transported back to my hometown of Snohomish, WA, Antique and Junk Shop capital of the United States. This play doesn’t take place there but you could have fooled me. As a kid, I got lost in stores like this, rifling through old ‘junk’, making up stories about where it all came from. I was taught how to properly hunt through each bin, how to look in all the nooks and crannies. I wanted to explore, to pick up each item, and truthfully I wanted to buy several items…My hoarding instincts went haywire. This made the show more fun and even more intimate than I imagined.
The set is absolutely packed from floor to ceiling with semi-organized chaos. You have to take it all in section by section, home furnishings, Christmas decorations, sporting goods, you name it. The tension is clear from the opening lines and keeps piling on every second, like the inventory of the shop. At the top of the play, Bobby and Don decide to “clean up,” they empty the ashtrays, throw boxes off to the side and a pulley system hoists pillows and knick-knacks high into the air. Everything is reaching its peak.
This play and set is then ignited by the performances. The high strung, caffeine fueled, chain-smoking commitment of the actors. Donny, played by Charles Leggett, is the owner of the shop. He shuffles around the stage like a man whose brain is as packed as his store. The weight of it bearing down his neck causing him to slouch and mumble like a man twice his age. He chain smokes, tries to keep his business and friendships separate, plans to organize a heist to get back a rare coin he can’t stand he sold, and fails miserably. Brazen intensity and over confidence seethes out of Teach, the resident con-man know-it-all played brilliantly by Hans Altwies. Teach spits fire every time he opens his mouth, rounded out by a surprisingly poetic dose of expletives in perfect pitch ‘Mamet-Speak’. It’s exhausting to keep your eye on him, he never sits still, and impossible not to get caught up in his paranoid delusions. This tense relationship is made increasingly explosive whenever Bobby, the naïve middle man played by Zachary Simonson, comes into the room. Donny is devoted to Bobby’s well-being to a guilt ridden fault and Teach has no patience for him whatsoever.
The actual acquiring of the Buffalo Nickel, and the simple act of looking it up to see if it’s of any value at all, takes a back seat to the drama of setting up the heist. Teach is anxious for some action, to get in, get out and score big while Donny is nervously questioning even involving Teach. When the integral point person, Fletcher, never turns up for the meeting, harsh accusations are thrown back and forth. No one trusts each other and everyone’s cards are suddenly on the table.
The end of the play is shocking, inspired and tiring. True to Mamet form, things fall apart and get messy. Though it is rare to be completely satisfied by something that ends without any closure, this is a testament to a great script. Mamet has a distinct writing style and an absolute knack for real life drama. His “excessive” use of profanity may make some uncomfortable, I saw several people leave during intermission, but it tugs at my heart strings and makes me sigh with comfort. People honestly say shit like this, I love when writers don’t shy away from the possibility of offense. Life isn’t clean cut and theatre shouldn’t be either. If you want to fearlessly transport an audience into their characters world (slimy, criminal, ruthless) you are undoubtedly going to cringe. The fact of the matter is this, if you walk into any junk shop in the USA you will see these characters and you will hear this language and you will smell secondhand smoke. I find it realistically refreshing and I am proud that the Rep doesn’t shy away from it. Bravo.
Copious Love suggests this play without reservation. Go see this f*#@ing Mamet play while you can. American Buffalo is playing at The Rep until February 3, 2013.