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Steppenwolf Delivers Top Drama With American Buffalo

By Suzy Evans in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 18, 2009 9:20PM


When you have a famous playwright headlining your show, it’s almost always a good thing. Steppenwolf has two.

American Buffalo, written by David Mamet and starring Tracy Letts (August: Osage County and Superior Donuts), takes place in a Chicago junkshop where three men - or two men and a boy - plan a heist to steal an American Buffalo nickel. (The play premiered in Chicago at the Goodman Theatre in 1975.) However, you’re supposed to care about the characters, not the coin. And these actors weave in and out of the dramatic ebb and flow with such precision, keeping you on the edge of your seat despite your lack of interest in their plans.

Letts, an omnipresent name in theater news since he hit the big time with August, is Teach, a no-good gambling man who comes to stir up trouble. Letts actually began his career as an actor in Chicago and has starred in numerous productions at Steppenwolf and elsewhere. And he does the same thing with Mamet’s words that he does writing his own. His confident swagger and quick talking nature kept the play’s ever-changing melody in tune.

Bob, an adept Patrick Andrews, provides fodder for Teach’s moments of rage, harmonizing the show’s escalating composition. Andrews seems monotone at first, but as the tempo picks up, he attacks the role and holds his own with two power house stars. Francis Guinan, an original August cast member, is Don, the junkshop’s owner and only sense of stability in a schizophrenic environment.

Another member of the original August cast, Amy Morton directs this ensemble. She conducts and choreographs every line and movement to perfection, and the escalating tensions would not shock and awe in the same way without her deft hand.

Like we said, we didn’t care for the plot, but the real thrill of this show is the chemistry between these actors. The perfect orchestration keeps you on your toes, and you’re so invested in these characters that you forget what they’re even after.

American Buffalo has been extended through February 14 at the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N Halsted St., Tickets are still available