A vulgar lexicon sets the tone: Characters in ‘American Buffalo’ wield words as weapons


“I’ve been alienating my public since I was 20 years old. When ‘American Buffalo’ came out on Broadway, people would storm out and say, ‘How dare he use that kind of language!’ Of course I’m alienating the public! That’s what they pay me for.” – David Mamet



In staging “American Buffalo,” the Mother Road Theatre Company is tackling a piece of American theater history, wrapped in a cyclone of swearing.

Set in a seedy junk shop, David Mamet’s modern masterpiece is a lightning flash of aggression and testosterone, where characters wield words like weapons to intimidate, cajole and manipulate one another. The play will open Friday at Tricklock Performance Laboratory.


“American Buffalo” stars three local actors: Paul Ford, Ryil Adamson and Michael Guajardo.


“People are afraid to do Mamet,” said director Vic Browder. “That’s because it’s so hard. It’s an actor’s dream to do Mamet, but it’s also an actor’s nightmare. “It’s hard to wrap their heads around the language, the pace, the musicality of it,” he added.


The setting is a 1975 Chicago junk shop where three small-time crooks plot to rob a man of his coin collection. Its showpiece is a rare buffalo nickel. These high-minded grifters fancy themselves businessmen pursuing legitimate free enterprise. But they are merely pawns caught up in their own game of last-chance, get-rich-quick schemes.

“These guys can’t get out of their own way enough to succeed,” Browder said. “There’s so much internal clutter. They’re screw-ups.”


Donny is the oafish shop owner; Bobby is the young junkie go-fer; Teach is a violently paranoiac braggart and gambler. Long repressed feelings of bitterness and betrayal explode as they plot the robbery. When the con goes awry, it’s every man for himself.


Mamet uses profanity as an integral component as his character’s “profane poetry.” That sometimes vulgar lexicon may be a psychologically necessary armor against their brutal environment.


“It’s basically Shakespeare, but it’s of the streets,” Browder said. “The language is so meaningful. There’s no extra bits. It’s very specific with a lot of subtext. The language is musical.”


In 1976 the play won an Obie Award for best new play. It also won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play of the 1977 season, and was nominated for two Tony Awards.

If you go

WHAT: “American Buffalo” by David Mamet staged by the Mother Road Theatre Company

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 13, through March 1; 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, 2 p.m. Sundays

WHERE: Tricklock Performance Laboratory, 110 Gold SW

HOW MUCH: $22/general; $20 seniors/students. Call 243-0596 or visit motherroad.org