David Mamet’s ‘American Buffalo’ hits hard at Aurora Theatre Co. 

click to enlarge American Buffalo
  • COURTESY DAVID ALLEN
  • From left, Paul Vincent O’Connor, James Carpenter and Rafael Jordan are excellent as small-time hustlers in Aurora Theatre Company’s production of “American Buffalo.”
Though the harshness and obscenities that characterize David Mamet’s award-winning “American Buffalo” have become the norm in today’s popular entertainment, the 1975 play about three 1970s-era small-time Chicago con men still packs a big punch.

It’s mostly due to the vitality of the characters, likable with their sleaziness and faults, and expertly portrayed by three top-notch actors in a new production at the Aurora Theatre Co., closing its 22nd season.

Director Barbara Damashek works with a solid cast: Bay Area stalwart James Carpenter, always great, is the fast-talking yet befuddled Teach, pacing, prancing and even lithe in rust-colored polyester. (Costumes are by Cassandra Carpenter.)

Teach has the power to sway Donny (a nicely nuanced Paul Vincent O’Connor), proprietor of the junky thrift shop were they haphazardly hatch a plan to steal some coins, including a vintage Buffalo nickel they believe — but aren’t sure — is valuable.

Rounding out the trio is Bobby (Rafael Jordan), a seemingly slow young guy who does menial tasks for Donny, but whose real motivations may belie his outward lack of confidence.

Watching these fellows dance around each other, and trying to decipher where their shifting loyalties lie and what they’re hiding, is what makes watching “American Buffalo” — dare we say it? — so fun.

With foul mouths, ignorant, bigoted, back-and-forth commentary, and not-quite-total lack of regard for each other, they’re mesmerizing, and in moments of weakness, even sympathetic.

Their palpable desperation even reflects the decrepit setting. Designer Eric Sinkkonen and prop manager Kirsten Royston’s dingy set — old chairs, a table, desk and glass cases and shelves filled with nondescript bric-a-brac — looks exactly like the kind of place where small-time crooks gather to do their business.

REVIEW

American Buffalo

Where: Aurora Theatre Co., 2081 Addison St., Berkeley

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes July 20

Tickets: $32 to $50

Contact: (510) 843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org

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Leslie Katz

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