June 3, 2010 at 5:09 pm EDT | by David J. Hoffman
A window on the soul of American men

You will recognize it immediately as “Mamet-speak.”

It’s David Mamet’s signature clipped, spare dialogue, strafing the audience with F-bombs, in a vernacular for a low-rent world crackling with dog-eat-dog hyper-masculinity. This is Mamet’s “American Buffalo,” now at D.C.’s Studio Theatre in Logan Circle, extended again until June 20.

It is a play awash with deep undercurrents of violence and cross-cutting tensions of male friendship, love and loneliness, and imminent threat of harm and the intense need not to be alone.

It is a play that will change your view of several things – male relationships, corporate-world betrayals and get-rich-quick schemes now laid painfully bare in the ugly aftermath of the fiscal crisis of 2007-2009 and the continuing Great Recession that stalks Main Street and our street.

For Mamet’s 1975 play “American Buffalo” is his masterwork with an authentic claim to rank high in the canon of contemporary American theater. It is arguably his greatest work, even now in the wake of so many other remarkable works, such as “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1984 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award) and screenplays for films such as “The Verdict” and “The Untouchables.”

In “American Buffalo,” Mamet’s command of the stage grips the audience by the throat from the start through high-tension scenes veiled with hints of violence ready to erupt as three men plot a small-time heist, to its poignant conclusion of sadly sweet reconciliation.

It is the directorial swan song for the Studio Theatre’s founding artistic director Joy Zinoman and as such she departs the role not with any easy whimper but the roar of a major bang. Even though the revolver one of the men brandishes may or may not be fired, putting in suspense Chekhov’s famous dictum that a gun introduced in Act 1 must be fired before final curtain.

Throughout the play the three men circle each other like scorpions trapped in a bottle — Danny, owner of a second-hand junk shop, where all of the action takes place; Bobby, his fragile young protege, strung-out either on drugs or despair or both; and Teach, menacing and know-it-all, channeling his own inner demons with every breath and nano seconds away from explosive fury. Their goal is how best to carry out the heist of a valuable coin collection — what Alfred Hitchcock would call the “Maguffin” of the story, since the play really isn’t about the coin collection, but it is the source of the title, “American Buffalo,” for a buffalo-head nickle.

The play is really about who and how the crime will be committed, and if it unravels, what then will become of these tortured lost souls?

In the process, bonds of friendship including feelings born from an ersatz father-son relationship will be tested and possibly found wanting. See this play if you care about male bonding, for it offers a window into the soul of American men, sometimes at their worst, possibly even at their best.

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