The planned Broadway revival of American Buffalo starring Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne was one of my first Covid cancellations. When I got the tickets as a gift for Christmas 2019 they came with a copy of the play. I have to confess I don’t particularly like reading plays. There’s so much beyond the dialogue that goes into making a play and it’s hard to get a sense of all that from the page. That’s especially true for a play like American Buffalo, which features rapid-fire dialogue and a complete lack of stage directions. It’s a very quick read but thereby possible to go through it at such a breakneck pace you lose comprehension.
The set-up is also pretty simple. Don owns a junkshop where a customer recently purchased an American Buffalo nickel for $90. Don begins to worry that he may have sold for too little and plans a robbery to get the nickel back, along with the rest of the customer’s coin collection. He has his assistant Bob staking out the guy’s apartment to see if he leaves. Meanwhile, Don’s friend Teach, fresh off losing a bunch of money in Don’s poker game, shows up and convinces Don that he should be in on the robbery, not Bob.
That’s pretty much it for Act I. In Act II the scheme gets a little more complicated and the characters get into a three-sided confrontation. And that’s pretty much it for Act II.
Now, I can easily see how good actors and set design could enhance the effect, but I must confess that as is the script reads very flat and uninteresting. The dialogue is often vague and indirect with characters speaking ungrammatically and leaving thoughts unfinished, much as people do in everyday speech. In the right actor’s hands this could be gold, but it’s hard to recreate in your own mind while reading along.
Maybe someday I’ll be sitting in a theater at a production of American Buffalo. I can’t wait to see what I missed.