A raw, lived-in production of David Mamet’s gritty drama “American Buffalo” explodes with its intensity intact on the Gaslight Theatre stage.
A wise writer once said that Mamet says a lot by not saying much, and St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s tight trio goes beyond the play’s limited vocabulary to create fully dimensional characters.
Director John Contini deftly draws us into the seamy underworld of two-bit hustlers, an uneasy dance of loyalty, trust and manipulation as they try to survive in a dog-eat-dog world.
Peter Mayer, as second-hand shop owner Don, William Roth as blustery hothead Teach and Leo Ramsey as eager-to-please junkie Bobby, effortlessly deliver Mamet’s distinctive dialogue in rapid rat-a-tat patter.
Their in-sync tempo is a marvel — a street-wise symphony as they nimbly bob and weave like prizefighters.
Don has sold an American buffalo nickel for $90. The coin, only minted from 1913 to 1938, is likely worth more, so he schemes with Bobby, who desperately wants to run with the big dogs, to steal it back.
Teach arrives, and everything you need to know about him is summarized in costume designer Carla Landis Evans’s gloriously coordinated gold sateen shirt and matching gold pair of loafers.
The flashy small-time crook, a wannabe king of the hill, carries a big chip on his shoulder that grows in every entrance. He demands to be cut in on the action. Although Teach intimidates Bobby, Don is able to finesse the tightly wound blowhard. Somewhat.
Contini stages the action fluidly, with each character having the upper hand briefly, only to have it snatched away. The tension simmers and tempers rise.
While veterans Mayer and Roth demonstrate their ease on stage and with each other, it is Leo Ramsey who electrifies the room as lost-boy Bobby, a mercurial mix of vulnerability and deception.
All three mastered the pacing and rhythms to realistically depict Mamet’s 1975 Chicago underworld.
Set designer Cristie Johnson and props master Carla Landis Evans filled the space superbly, creating one of the most memorable sets in the black box theater.
The downtrodden, desperate period may seem light years away from Dickens’ Victorian England, but is it really?
Don, Teach and Bobby may be easily dismissed on society’s fringe, but the actors vividly brought out the humanity and imagery to remain with us.
What: St. Louis Actors’ Studio
When: Thursday to Sunday
Where: Gaslight Theatre, 358 N. Boyle, St. Louis
Information: www.stlas.org, 314-458-2978