Theater opens season with ‘American Buffalo’


Chosen as the best American play by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle in 1977, David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” has continued to draw critical acclaim throughout the decades. Dustin Hoffman was the cutting-edge lead in the 1996 film version of the play. A 1983 Broadway revival starring Al Pacino was nominated for a Tony. Proving the play still has legs, another Broadway revival opened last fall starring John Leguizamo.

San Diego audiences can now revisit this intense work as Compass Theatre opens its 2009 season with “American Buffalo.” The show runs through Feb. 15 and is directed by Ruff Yeager.

The story takes place in a Chicago thrift shop run by Don (Walter Murray). He’s a come-what-may survivor who can’t resist a get-rich-quick scheme even when it’s risky. Removing himself from the risk factor, he reveals his plan to steal a man’s coin collection to Teach (Matt Scott) and wants him to handle the job.

Teach is a misanthropic shop hangout who can explode with anger one minute and pretend to be a mentor the next -- like he does with Bob (Nathan Dean Synder), a nervous neighborhood druggie who often turns to Don for advice and a handout. Mamet’s plays require much of its actors, to take themselves to a level of denial while seeming normal. Each of the actors in this production is expressively courageous in their portrayals.

The derisive play is a shortened form of the original but still maintains a street-smart edge. The Compass Theatre actors incorporate Mamet’s incomplete sentence structure well to flesh out their characters’ gritty angst. With his boyish, pleading look, Synder elicits much empathy for his character Bob, especially when he’s hit over the head by Teach in a jealous rage. Scott’s Wiley Coyote portrayal of a man only looking out for himself sets the tone for this cynical tale about three con men.

Compass founder and executive director Dale Morris worked for three years to get the rights to produce the play. Keen direction by Yeager is evident in how the trio reacts to each other. The theater’s physical stage area and seating space is small. That doesn’t matter, however, as the actors’ talents are large. Compass’ “American Buffalo” is solid entertainment for adults only.

‘American Buffalo’

  • Through Feb. 15
  • Compass Theatre
  • 3704 Sixth Ave.
  • (619) 688-9210