AMERICAN BUFFALO is the expletive-happy poetry that leaked from the pen of David Mamet as he was turning 30, in 1977, with an ear pressed to the shabbier streets of Chicago. The rhythms he recorded, heightening them into a rambling mix of profanity, anthropology, and all-American entrepreneurialism, were Caucasian, but they don’t suffer from a little African-American cadence being mixed in. Neither is director Evan Bergman — whose all-black production is currently sharing Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater’s Julie Harris Stage with an impressive jumble of detritus (through October 14) — the first to put Mamet’s symphony of convoluted tough talk and botched syntax into African-American mouths. Teach, the most flamboyant of the play’s three small-time crooks, has been famously assayed by white actors Robert Duvall, Al Pacino, and Dustin Hoffman. But Michael Corrente’s 1996 film deployed an African-American, Sean Nelson, as Bobby, the young, possibly recovering druggie huddled under the wing of junkshop proprietor Donny as the play’s trio, bungling a coin heist as well as their relations, demonstrate the pathetic ruthlessness of American business.
The WHAT production, then, is solid if not revolutionary, with Reg E. Cathey a tense rather than showy Teach, the danger in him tightly coiled even as the surface umbrage leaks out all over the place. Hubert Point-Du Jour is a shifty but childlike Bobby and Paul Butler a stolid, commanding, if soft-spoken Donny. And the play, hilarious and heartbreaking whatever color you paint it, remains a bristling testament to Mamet’s stage genius as yet unburdened by theory or affectation.
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