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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

David Mamet's "American Buffalo": Gambling, the Big Con, and Sales

Posted By on Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge James Carpenter stars as Teach in 'American Buffalo' - DAVID ALLEN
  • David Allen
  • James Carpenter stars as Teach in 'American Buffalo'

To get ready to direct David Mamet's "American Buffalo" at the Aurora Theatre Company, Barbara Damashek watched the HBO series The Wire, which is about the breakdown of social systems in Baltimore.

"It's about the underside of our culture, and this is too," she says. "This is petty criminals living against the law. The language of the two worlds is fascinating to me. I think The Wire an American masterpiece, and this is too."

All of Mamet's obsessions -- with gambling, the big con and sales -- come out in the play, about three small-time crooks in a junk shop, planning to steal a coin collection, Damashek says, and they still have relevance more than 30 years after Mamet wrote the play.

"He's captured a great American theme," she says. "He's captured the idea that sales and selling is our hunt."

Along with this play, that theme is strong in "Glengarry, Glenross" and "Speed the Plow," according to Damashek, but she finds "American Buffalo" the most innocent of those.

"'Glengarry' is about real estate and 'Speed the Plow' is about Hollywood," she says. "This is about a junk shop and bottoms feeders fighting."

Damashek, who also directed Mamet's "Cryptogram" at the Magic Theatre, says Mamet has written a parable for our culture in which violence trumps love and friendship.

click to enlarge COURTESY OF AURORA THEATRE COMPANY
  • Courtesy of Aurora Theatre Company

But it's not just violent. She adds, there's a lot of wit and humor there too.

"He's invented an amazingly musical language," says Damashek, who teaches acting and lyric theater at San Francisco State University. "The most fun for me is to work on a wonderful play like this with wonderful actors and that's what I'm doing, and we're having a ball."

"American Buffalo" starts previews on June 13, opens June 19, and runs through July 13 at the Aurora Theatre Company (2081 Addison Street, Berkeley). Tickets are $32 -$60. For more information, please call 510-843-4822.

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Emily Wilson

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