Thursday, February 15, 2007

REVIEW: American Buffalo (The Gate, Dublin)

American Buffalo, David Mamet's breakthrough play from thirty years ago, has all the stylistic tics that make his mano-a-mano dramas so instantly recognisable. It's a play full of guys, guys who love curt and repetitious badinage about cheats and tricksters. And double bluffs. And triple crosses.

Here we have a fractious gang of flop-outs and would-be sharks, scratching some wobbly kind of existence on the felonious edges of 1970s Chicago. Don (Sean McGinley, in what looks like the same costume he was wearing a few months ago, in the Abbey's Empress of India) runs a pawn shop where panhadling types come to hang out.

There's Don's halfwit gopher protégé, Bobby (Domhnall Gleeson, feeling it all, big time) And then, of course, there's Aidan Gillen's Teach, a wiry insomniac who moves like a stick puppet, as though driven around the stage on an uncomfortably placed piece of wood. He prowls the set, peeping through bits of furniture, ever ready to slap you upside the head, or start crying.

Mamet often seems like something of a thorn in the side of good actors; his classic scripts don't really call for good actors. Or, more to the point, they don't really call for good acting, at least in the traditional sense. If an actor is too smooth, too good at creating a whole character from a few spare words, then things can kind of fall apart.

That's not quite what happens in director, Mark Brokaw's Gate version, but things are certainly straining in that direction. McGinley seems not entirely sure whether it's wise to render Don in 3D, while Gillen's too busy buzzing to worry overly. Consequently, that sense a menace we're struggling to fathom, never quite materialises, leaving instead a niggling feeling that somebody has successfully bluffed.

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