AMERICAN BUFFALO by David Mamet, directed by Stuart Hughes (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (55 Mill). To April 29. $18-$54. 416-866-8666. See Continuing Listings. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
American Buffalo launched David Mamet's career in 1975. With its rapid-fire dialogue, intelligent exploration of male friendship and clever storytelling, it's Mamet at his very best revealing American society at its absolute worst.
Director Stuart Hughes understands that the dissolution of the friendship between junk shop owner Don ( Michael Hanrahan ) and small-time crook Teach ( Ted Dykstra ) is the play's focal point, not the heist they hatch.
But Hughes cops out when it comes to Mamet's speedy line delivery. Dykstra in particular pauses between lines when he should barrel forward.
At his first pause I thought he'd missed his cue; at the second, not 10 seconds later, I realized the breaks were intentional.
By hesitating so frequently, Dykstra and, to a lesser extent, Hanrahan give Don and Teach time to think, when the story suggests that these guys don't think much at all. Slowing their speech hints at inner lives that should be shown, not told, through frenetic action instead of frequent, stalling silences.
The pauses also confuse the details of the story, because there's no link between one thought and the next. Everything has been homogenized, leaving little room for the script's humour.
Parts of the production find a stable footing. As Bob, a neighbourhood kid, newcomer Jeff Lillico beautifully conveys his desire to be one of the gang. His final scene with Don changes the tone of their relationship and of the play, from pissed-off to gently parental.
It's a great note to end on, showing that although much of life is corrupt, moments of unplanned connection can be authentic.