Teach (James Carpenter), center, interrogates Bobby (Rafael Jordan), left, as Donny (Paul Vincent O'Connor) tries to locate a missing friend in ‘American Buffalo.'
“American Buffalo” gets its title from a valuable buffalo nickel, but a theme of David Mamet’s potent play is business in America, and it’s not very pretty.
Aurora Theatre Company is staging a top-notch production of this 1975 play under the direction of Barbara Damashek.
The setting is a cluttered resale shop in Chicago owned by Donny (Paul Vincent O’Connor). A few days earlier, Donny had unwittingly sold a buffalo nickel to a customer who was more than willing to pay $90 for it.
Donny deduced that it probably was worth more than that and has enlisted his young assistant, Bobby (Rafael Jordan), to help him steal it back.
When Donny’s friend Teach (James Carpenter) arrives and learns of the plan, he convinces Donny to bring him in and to leave Bobby out. Considering that all three men are liars and that none of them is truly astute, the plan fizzles out.
During the course of the two-act play, there’s much talk about business, as if the speakers were experts, but they aren’t. Teach is probably a two-bit crook, Bobby is young and dumb, and Donny — though ostensibly running a legal operation — is hardly a huge success.
The greatest pleasure of this production is watching two master actors — O’Connor and Carpenter — at work. Carpenter’s profanity-spouting Teach is full of edgy energy and volatile bravado.
O’Connor’s Donny is more low key and seemingly rational. He might not react verbally to some of Teach’s comments, but his expressive face reflects his disbelief or skepticism.
Their timing and their handling of Mamet’s language are endlessly fascinating, along with their ability to bring his humor to the fore.
Jordan’s Bobby is definitely not bright and often vague when pumped for information. One can’t be sure if he’s being evasive or if he’s really as dense as he seems. However, it’s clear that he admires Donny and appreciates the fatherly interest that Donny takes in him.
Director Damashek skillfully orchestrates the action within Aurora’s intimate space. Kudos to fight director Dave Maier, too.
The set by Eric E. Sinkkonen is a marvel of clutter (props assembled by Kirsten Royston). The costumes by Cassandra Carpenter are right out of the 1970s.
Running just over two hours with one intermission, this is a production to be savored, not only for the quality of the play itself but also the performances by Carpenter and O’Connor.
“American Buffalo” will continue at Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison Ave., Berkeley, through July 13. For tickets and information call (510) 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.