The Buffalo

Taking my wife to see David Mamet’s violent and profane play American Buffalo (1975) was possibly not the most appropriate choice for Valentine’s Day.  But we both wanted to see it and February 14 happened to be the day that worked for our schedule.

The action takes place in Donny’s pawn shop during an afternoon and evening as he plots a robbery with recovering addict Bobby and  the title character named Teach.  The latter is a smoldering volcano with hair-trigger sensitivity to the slightest hint of disrespect who is also capable (rarely) of plaintive expressions of his need for friendship and understanding.  Mamet captures perfectly the character of an adult whose self-esteem was beaten down in childhood and has not yet recovered.  Teach is the personality behind tavern fights, domestic violence, road rage and murder-suicide.  We don’t see it in the play but it would be no surprise to learn he had a substance abuse issue or a gambling problem.

Teach does not internalize his pain, anger and stress and therefore would not turn up in my office with unexplained symptoms (though he may end up seeing me for alcoholic liver disease or virus hepatitis from injectable drugs).  Instead, he externalizes his emotions both verbally and physically and the world around him suffers as a result.  Mamet portrays him in remarkable depth and detail, aided by the contrast with Bobby’s canine loyalty and Donny’s struggle between self-interest and altruism.  I recommend it if you have a chance, though definitely not for Valentine’s Day.