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REVIEW ROUNDUP: American Buffalo, Starring Tracy Letts, Opens at Steppenwolf Theatre Company logo
Francis Guinan and Tracy Letts in
American Buffalo
(© Michael Brosilow)
Amy Morton's revival of David Mamet's American Buffalo opened at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company on December 13.

Starring Patrick Andrews, Francis Guinan, and Tracy Letts, the play is set in a cluttered, run-down Chicago junk shop, where three small-time crooks plot to steal a valuable buffalo nickel.

Letts' performance has been met with uniform raves while Morton's production -- and the play itself -- are being met with less enthusiasm.

Among the reviews are:

Chicago Tribune
'Buffalo' falls short
"Most decent actors playing Teach can find a way to make sense of the famous moment -- ideally matched to that old Steppenwolf aesthetic -- when the nasty fellow smashes up his world, hurling junk, treasures and souls alike into some great slag heap of personal paranoia. But Letts also finds the other, more typically elusive, side of this angry character -- the pathetically ineffectual side. Teach is no urban revolutionary, able to strike terror, consequential terror, into those he meets. He is a low-grade loser whose tantrums will never amount to anything more than self-defeating deals and schemes."


"But despite deft casting, some truly stellar moments and a wholly right-headed directorial approach to the script, the production doesn't fully capture the gravitas, the edge, the thematic oomph, the urgency, that gave this play its essentiality in earlier years. I've reached the conclusion that that's very difficult to achieve now with this script."

Chicago Sun-Times
What's 'Buffalo' really worth?
"Letts, of course, also is the prize-winning playwright behind "August: Osage County" and "Superior Donuts." An actor of true genius and relentless, blistering black humor, he is a masterful interpreter of other playwrights' work (Pinter as well as Mamet), and you can see their powerful influence on his own writing."


"Morton, who demonstrated her genius for animating Mamet's work back in 2001 with her brilliant Steppenwolf revival of "Glengarry Glen Ross," has done the job again here with the help of a bravura cast [...] She has cast this buffalo nickel of a play with pure gold. And set designer Kevin Depinet's vision of the Chicago junkshop where the play unfolds enhances the story in a profound way."

Time Out Chicago
Review: 'American Buffalo'
"One of Mamet's defining works, Buffalo doesn't still shock the way it did when it premiered on the Goodman's Stage 2 in 1975, with its spiraling profanity and violence. Instead, the shock is the reminder that Mamet once built plays around characters rather than straw men."


"Under Morton's guidance, the tightly wrought tale of three Chicago lowlifes ineptly planning a heist reveals variegated layers beneath its famously virtuoso cussing. Scan past the well-played fucks and cunts and the increasingly meaningless clichés that comprise the false bravado of Teach (Letts as the play's driving-without-a-steering-wheel force), and you'll find the two most emphatically repeated concepts: loyalty and business, which Mamet seems to suggest are mutually exclusive."

Review: American Buffalo
"… playing the bombastic petty thief Teach, Letts seriously does Mamet, not just speaking Mamet's dialogue, but fondling it with a palpable sense of affection for its poetic rhythms. Even more importantly, he animates the language, always keeping us keenly aware of the distance between the character's blustery, angry behavior and the motivating insecurity beneath."


"The production, directed by "August: Osage County" star Amy Morton (also onscreen in "Up in the Air"), is excellent in all its components, but not yet ideal as a whole. Guinan and Andrews are both admirably honest and completely believable, but perhaps too emotionally reserved in comparison to Letts' larger-than-life low-life."

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