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‘American Buffalo,’ Explodes in its Third Broadway Revival With Phenomenals Fishburne, Rockwell and Criss

Laurence Fishburne in American Buffalo © 2022 Richard Termine

David Mamet’s American Buffalo, first presented on Broadway in 1977 with Robert Duvall as Teach followed with three Broadway revivals. The 1983 revival starred Al Pacino as Teach, the 2008 revival starred John Leguizamo. Eluding the Tony award each time, but garnering multiple Tony and Drama Desk nominations, the 1977 production did win a New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award for Best American Play.

Perhaps Neil Pepe’s direction of this third revival of the American classic, currently at Circle in the Square will bring home a few Tonys. It is a sterling production of Mamet’s revelatory, insightful play about the American Dream gone haywire for a couple of wannabe criminals whose concept of friendship and getting over test each other’s mettle.

Sam Rockwell in American Buffalo (Richard Termine)

The cast is more than worthy to line up with Mamet’s dynamic, vital characterizations. The actors are seamlessly authentic in the roles of Donny (Laurence Fishburne), Teach (Sam Rockwell) and Bobby (Darren Criss). I didn’t want the play to end, enjoying their amazing energy and finding their portrayals to be humorous, poignant, frightening, intensely human and a whole lot more. Their depth, their interaction, their careful interpretation of each word and action that appeared flawlessly real is so precisely constructed in their performances, it is incredibly invigorating and a justification for live theater-why it is and why it always will be.

Mamet’s early writing is strong and singularly powerful as evidenced in American Buffalo. The play involves a string of events that happen over the course of a day in Don’s Resale Shop which is a hazard of incredible junk for the ages, fantastically arrayed by Scott Pask’s talents as scenic designer. The play opens at the height of drama (we think), when Donny upbraids Bobby about the right protocol to take regarding “doing a thing” as a preliminary action in a future plan they will endeavor. Then the developmental action sparks upward and never takes a breath in the crisp, well-paced Pepe production.

(L to R): Darren Criss, Laurence Fishburne in American Buffalo (Richard Termine)

Immediately, we note Fishburne’s paternal and fatherly approach to Darren Criss’ innocent, boyish, “not too swift” acolyte into how to be sharp in business and not let “friendship” get in the way. Donny’s mantra relates throughout American Buffalo. As we watch his interaction with Bobby, we can’t help but see the organic humor in their characters which are contradictory and perhaps disparate from us in intention, discourse, values, initially, but are our brothers in humanity, whether we admit it or not.

(L to R): Laurence Fishburne, Darren Criss, Sam Rockwell in American Buffalo (Richard Termine)

At the outset it is impossible not to align ourselves empathetically with these acting icons, each of them award winners with a long history of prodigious talent over decades of experience in film, TV and stage. They are a pleasure to watch as they inhabit these characters, that are a few class steps above Maxim Gorky’s Lower Depths‘ denizens. LIke Gorky’s underclass, these “higher in stature” nevertheless live in their dreams as they deal with the very real and shabby circumstances of their lives. Thus, junk doyen Donny is the wise businessman who, by the play’s end belies all of the instructions he relates to Bobby at the beginning. And Bobby who intently listens to show Donny how much he is willing to learn to remain in his favor, learns little because he has let Donny down at the outset when he is “yessing” him with wide-eyed reception.

Darren Criss in American Buffalo (Richard Termine)

As a counterweight to the teacher-pupil, father-son relationship and manipulation between Donny and Bobby, the manic, feverish Teach throws around his knowledge, experience, street smarts and volatile “friendship.” He is their foil, their activator, their stimulator, their inveterate “loser” with a talent for braggadocio and despondency, and clipped epithets about the other denizens in their acquaintance. He is an apparent backstabber and one to watch as someone who sees themselves as dangerous, but botches his self-awareness and presumption to greatness at every turn.

Rockwell knows every inch of Teach and performs him with gusto and relish. He is integral to this team of exceptional actors that Pepe directs to high flashpoints of authenticity and spot on immediacy. This is collaboration at its best. From the layout of their characters’ plans in Act I to the consequences of the plan’s execution in Act II, the still point of behavior is the crux of what Mamet’s Buffalo presents with crushing ruthlessness.

(L to R): Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne in American Buffalo (Richard Termine)

Examples abound throughout, but are particularly manifest in Act II. It is there that Rockwell’s Teach releases the anger within the character to reveal his self-destruction, self-loathing and disappointments. Rockwell’s Teach lashes out, only to be topped by Fishburne’s essentially kind and fatherly Donny, who erupts like a volcano at Teach in a shocking display of force. The drama in the second act is so alive, so expertly staged by J. David Brimmer as Fight Director, if Teach had moved an inch more slowly than he did, he would have been badly injured by the essentially good-natured but seriously, no-joke Donny. The altercation is a work of art, incredibly precise in its build up of the characters’ emotions, then release.

Likewise, Teach’s explosion against Bobby is devastating in another way. Brutal and exacting, Teach exploits Bobby as his victim. Using him as a backboard to release his fury and self-loathing, he redirects Donny to believe Bobby and another individual have double-crossed Donny and Teach in their plot to steal, undercutting Teach’s and Donny’s deal. Bobby’s attempt is feeble as he tries to verbally defend himself against Teach’s relentless onslaught, borne out by Teach’s years of inner frustration which have encompassed failure after failure. Teach won’t hear Bobby. Enraged at himself and his own assumed victimization, as he spews venom on the double-crossing Bobby and his “accomplice” to incite Donny, his violence crashes in a high, then a low.

(L to R): Sam Rockwell, Darren Criss, Laurence Fishburne in American Buffalo (Richard Termine)

Once again, the frenemies are tragic counterparts in a social class that is hurting. Teach’s rage is otherworldly. Bobby’s sorrowful reception of it without fighting back is heart-breaking. Criss is just smashing. I wanted to run up with alcohol and bandages to help stem the external wounds, knowing Bobby’s soul harm is irreparable. Through both brutalizations by Fishburne’s Donny and Rockwell’s Teach, the audience was silent in tension and anticipation. And then the mood breaks and here comes humor and apologies and I won’t spoil the rest.

The togetherness and human bonds displayed are as rare as the American Buffalo head rare coin Donny believes he had and lost. The coin lures the three who are governed by dreams of wealth, like iron pyrite. The resultant failure of their plans, emotional devastation and self-harm is never dealt with. Only Donny’s soothing of the situation is a partial rectification. Interestingly, whatever the type of friendship Teach, Donny and Bobby have will be strengthened by the thrill of the gambit, the crooked deal, the need to “get over” to salve lives that exist without purpose, overarching destiny or moment, except to move toward death, with “a little help from their friends.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MARCH 14: (L-R) Darren Criss, Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell pose at a photo call during rehearsals for the revival of David Mamet’s play “American Buffalo” at The Atlantic Theater Company Rehearsal Studios on March 14, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/WireImage for American Buffalo) Photo By Bruce Glikas Instagram: photo by @bruglikas /@broadwaybruce_ @gettyentertainment @buffalobway

This portrait of Americana is particularly heady and current. Though the play is apolitical, it does speak to class, the macho bravado of making plans and screwing up, the lure of illegality as cool, and the consolation provided by the older wiser individual who the younger men are fortunate to befriend, though he is a subtle manipulator and user, as they all are in the game of “getting over.”

In American Buffalo Mamet suggests this game is as American as the American Buffalo, as American as apple pie, as American as the right to bear arms. Indeed, it is in the soil and the soul of our culture and we cannot escape it, though we may not embrace the ethic and ethos of the “art of the steal,” especially when law enforcement comes knocking. Nevertheless, the play suggests a fountain from which to drink and either be poisoned by the perspective, refreshed, nourished, but never bored. For that reason and especially these acting greats, this production should not be missed.

Kudos to Tyler Micoleau’s lighting design, Dede Ayite’s costume design and all the technical creatives whose efforts are integral to Neil Pepe’s vision for this third revival. For tickets and times go to their website: https://americanbuffalonyc.com/

Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society Nominations

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I am taking out the time to post this release on my site because I agree with the spirit of this online film society. I have seen a number of the nominated films in festivals across the nation. Other films they overlooked were smashing. For example, Last Flag Flying (screenplay, performances) and  Wonderstruck  (art design, music). And Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is noteworthy because of superb performances by Annette Bening and Jamie Bell.

Last Flag Flying, Darryl Poniscan, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston, NYFF 2017

(L to R): Darryl Poniscan, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston at NYFF Q and A, ‘Last Flag Flying’ (Carole Di Tosti)

Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, HIFF 2017

Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Q & A ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,’ HIFF 2017 (Carole Di Tosti)

And of course, there are some nominations with which I do not agree. Lady Bird, I believe, is overrated; the performances are uneven, the characters stock and predictable.  The humor is pressure-cookered and not organic. Also, I would have added to the Best Actor category, Armie Hammer. His portrayal in Call Me By Your Name is easily underestimated.  It is more complexly rendered and must be sussed out, more so than his co-protagonist Timothée Chalamet, not to take away from Chalamet who is incredible. LAOFCS picks are below.

Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name, NYFF 2017, Nigel M. Smith

(L to R): Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Director Luca Guadagnino in ‘Call Me By Your Name’ Q & A at NYFF 2017, hosted by Nigel M. Smith (courtesy NYFF Talks)

Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name, NYFF 2017, Nigel M. Smith

Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, NYFF 2017 ‘Call Me By Your Name’ Q & A hosted by Nigel M. Smith (courtesy NYFF Talks)

The Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society Announces Its Inaugural Year’s Nominations:
Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water leads with 11 nominations while Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird lands in second place with nine and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk in third with eight.

(Los Angeles, CA – December 4th, 2017) – The Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society (LAOFCS) is pleased to announce that their Awards Ceremony will be held on January 3rd, 2018, at which time the winners will be announced.

Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water, HIFF 2017

Richard Jenkins ‘The Shape of Water,’ HIFF 2017 Q & A (Carole Di Tosti)

Fox Searchlight’s The Shape of Water tops the nominations list with eleven nominations including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay while Lady Bird earns nine nominations and Dunkirk earns eight. Jordan Peele’s massive hit, Get Out scores nominations for Best Male Director and Best First Feature.

Ruben Ostend, The Square, NYFF 2017

Ruben Ostend, director ‘The Square,’ NYFF 2017 Q & A (Carole Di Tosti)

Studio films such as Wonder Woman, War for the Planet of the Apes, and Blade Runner 2049 are also among the nominations scoring five nominations each.

A few smaller released films have found their place on the nominations list including Neon’s Colossal, Trademark Films & Break Thru Films’ Loving Vincent, and the Sundance Institute’s Columbus.

Diane Kruger, In the Fade, HIFF 2017

Diane Kruger, ‘In the Fade,’ HIFF 2017 Q & A (Carole Di Tosti)

Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet are each nominated for Best Actress and Actor as well as Best Performance by an Actor or Actress Under the Age of 23.

The Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society is pleased to announce that it is the first ever critics group to feature two Best Director categories; one for female and one for male. “There has been so much conversation about the power of female filmmakers and we wanted to embrace it,” said Mantz. “There is a Best Actor and Best Actress category as well as Best Supporting Actor and Actress, so why not have a Best Male Director and Best Female Director category?” asked Menzel. Good idea considering more attention must be given to the exceptional work of female directors who are often closed out in favor of their male counterparts.

In total, the Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society members have nominated over forty different films ranging from smaller art-house releases to major blockbusters.

Sam Rockwell, HIFF 2017, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Sam Rockwell, HIFF 2017 ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ (Carole Di Tosti)

Nominations for the first Annual Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society Awards:

BEST PICTURE

The Big Sick
Colossal
Call Me By Your Name
Get Out
I, Tonya
Lady Bird
Molly’s Game
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Bryan Cranston, Last Flag Flying, NYFF 2017

Bryan Cranston, ‘Last Flag Flying,’ NYFF 2017 Q & A (Carole Di Tosti)

BEST FEMALE DIRECTOR

Dee Rees, Mudbound
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Kathryn Bigelow, Detroit
Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman
Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled

BEST MALE DIRECTOR

Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name
Steven Spielberg, The Post

Jamie Bell, Film STars Don't Die in Liverpool, HIFF 2017

Jamie Bell, ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,’ HIFF 2017 Q and A (Carole Di Tosti)

BEST ANIMATED / VISUAL EFFECT PERFORMANCE

Andy Serkis, War for the Planet of the Apes
Doug Jones, The Shape of Water
Dan Stevens, Beauty and the Beast

BEST EDITING

Baby Driver
Dunkirk
I, Tonya
The Post
The Shape of Water

Annette Bening, HIFF 2017, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

Annette Bening, HIFF 2017 Q & A ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,’ (Carole Di Tosti)

BEST SCORE

Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST STUNT WORK

Atomic Blonde
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
John Wick: Chapter 2
Wonder Woman

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR OR ACTRESS UNDER 23 YEARS OLD

Brooklynn Prince, The Florida Project
Dafne Keen, Logan
Jacob Tremblay, Wonder
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

BEST SCI-FI/ HORROR

Blade Runner 2049
Get Out
It
It Comes at Night
The Shape of Water

Brooklyn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, NYFF 2017, The Florida Project

(L to R): Brooklyn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, NYFF 2017 Q & A ‘The Florida Project’ (Carole Di Tosti)

BEST ACTION/WAR

Baby Driver
Dunkirk
Logan
War for the Planet of the Apes
Wonder Woman

BEST COMEDY/MUSICAL

The Big Sick
The Disaster Artist
Girls Trip
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

BEST FIRST FEATURE

Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Kogonada, Columbus
Jeremy Gasper, Patti Cake$
Jordan Peele, Get Out

Armie Hammer, HIFF 2017, Call Me By Your Name

Armie Hammer, HIFF 2017 Red Carpet, ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ (Carole Di Tosti)

BEST INDEPENDENT FILM

The Big Sick
Colossal
A Ghost Story
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

BEST BLOCKBUSTER

Beauty and the Beast
Dunkirk
Logan
War for the Planet of the Apes
Wonder Woman

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Bruno Delbonnel, Darkest Hour
Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water
Hoyte van Hoytema, Dunkirk
Rachel Morrison, Mudbound
Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
War for the Planet of the Apes
Wonder Woman

BEST DOCUMENTARY

An Inconvenient Sequel
Jane
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond
Step
Whose Streets?

Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne, Last Flag Flying,

(L to R): Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne in ‘Last Flag Flying,’ (courtesy of the film)

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

BPM, France
First They Killed My Father, Cambodia
In the Fade, Germany
The Square, Sweden
Thelma, Norway

BEST ANIMATED FILM

The Breadwinner
Coco
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
The LEGO Batman Movie
Loving Vincent

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Sam Rockwell, David Nugent, HIFF 2017, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

(L to R): Sam Rockwell, David Nugent, HIFF 2017 Q & A ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Carole Di Tosti)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game
Luca Guadagnino, James Ivory, & Walter Fasano, Call Me by Your Name
Michael H. Weber & Scott Neustadter, The Disaster Artist
Scott Frank, James Mangold, & Michael Green, Logan
Virgil Williams & Dee Rees, Mudbound

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Idris Elba, Molly’s Game
Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name
Patrick Stewart, Logan
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Williem Dafoe, The Florida Project

BEST ACTRESS

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

BEST ACTOR

Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Tom Hanks, The Post

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