Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Critics Don't Give A Dime About American Buffalo Revival

Critics Don't Give A Dime About American Buffalo Revival

Last evening, the second Broadway revival for David Mamet’s American Buffalo enjoyed a rare Monday evening opening at the Belasco Theatre. Helmed by Robert Falls, the production stars John Leguizamo, Cedric the Entertainer and Haley Joel Osment. Critics were largely disappointed.

Deeming the revival "enjoyable if not revelatory," Newsday's Linda Winer provides a mixed assessment: "[T]his one has an exhilarating performance by John Leguizamo, who careens off Mamet's essence with a joy I missed in the oddly constricted Plow. Robert Falls, the Chicago-based director who exploded expectations from the inside in recent smashing revivals ... isn't blowing the lid off Mamet tradition in this straightforward production.... Do we need another American Buffalo in a season bereft of new plays? Of course not. Is it good to have it back? Sure."

Branding it a "deflated revival," Ben Brantley of The New York Times clearly believes the production's talent wasn't up to the Mamet task: "In the latest version of American Buffalo, the words feel too limp to stick together, and each character seems to have a different mother tongue. This is a resounding disappointment, given the talent of those involved.... The rhythms of this production are those of a sitcom, with lots of empty space between lines to let audiences fully register jokes and outlandish figures of speech. Such an approach saps the strength of American Buffalo.... Nobody appears desperate here. Well, not the characters, anyway; the actors are another matter."

Taking note that "If the F-word really were an F-bomb, there would be nothing left of Times Square," Bloomberg's John Simon says that the sum doesn't equal the parts: "The play is skillfully directed by Robert Falls, who has choreographed some arresting movements and imposed fascinating changes in tempo and dynamics. The actors squeeze everything possible out of their parts, Cedric, for example, managing to say 'No' in peculiarly layered ways. There is even a vocal trio in the interplay of Cedric’s rumbling bass, Leguizamo’s whining, high-pitched tenor and Osment’s overeager or anxious countertenor. But put it all together and it spells blather of the peculiarly Mametian brand, in which obscenity and scatology sprout like mushrooms in damp, shady ground. Cut out the foulmouthed verbiage and the play would be appreciably shorter but hardly better. It might even lose what specious colorfulness it has."

Lamenting that the revival "sits so flatly on its impressive self," Variety's David Rooney also joins the chorus of critics wondering what happened: "Robert Falls' production drains much of the humor, urgency and anxiety from the piece, letting it amble along like an inflated actors' exercise in sustaining atmosphere without action.... Falls has proven himself repeatedly to be an exceptional director with actors. But while he gets capable work out of all three cast members on the surface, his naturalistic approach is not suited to Mamet's muscularly theatrical language. The actors too rarely get under their characters' skins to expose the bitter insecurity lurking there.... Dynamic as he is, Leguizamo's flashy tricks are part of the problem."

Concluding that this revival "rarely succeeds," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News offers just two out of five stars: "Despite a starry cast of John Leguizamo, Haley Joel Osment and Cedric the Entertainer, who's miscast, the tepid two-hour two-act, directed by Robert Falls, makes the story seem very slight, with all the danger and combustibility of a book of soggy matches.... Leguizamo makes the character his own with a one-two wallop of scary-funny. He's constantly compelling as he roams nervously, grabs his crotch for emphasis and unleashes X-rated torrents.... Though he's an appealing actor, Cedric the Entertainer is so sitcom-cuddly and cute, he simply lacks the needed edge to convince as Don."

Asking, "Just how many f - - - ing David Mamet revivals do we need this season?" New York Post's Barbara Hoffman (does anyone know how Clive Barnes is, other than "on leave"???) awards just two out of four stars: "American Buffalo has all the profanity and none of the poetry. As directed by the usually estimable Robert Falls, with John Leguizamo, Cedric the Entertainer and Haley Joel Osment, it's flatter than a cow plop.... Cedric is a solid, almost fatherly Don who makes the most of the show's genuinely funny moments -- miming, say, the back end of a sexy bicyclist -- though he rolls his eyes a few times too many. And Osment, also new to Broadway, makes a touchingly vulnerable Bobby in a role that doesn't grow much. (This time, he sees bored people.)"

So there you have it folks. One Mamet revival receiving generally solid notices, followed by this one that reeks of critical disappointment. Interesting to note that the former is the one that had scheduled a limited run. Wonder if the team associated with the latter is rethinking their plans?

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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