After a two-year hiatus related to the pandemic, the Bay Area Stage cast are back on stage in what director Jeff Lowe calls a play with “poetry and lots of swearing,” David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.”
In a brief phone interview, Lowe said the three-piece, produced in 1975 and populated by the Chicago native’s typical working-class characters, dispensing familiar and often abrasive dialogue, “flows beautifully” and, nonetheless, , “tells the story” of distrust and dishonesty among the conspirators of an aborted heist.
The Vallejo-based troupe’s latest offering, which runs weekends through Feb. 13 at the company’s 515 Broadway St. space, tells the sordid story of junk store owner Don Dubrow. -à-brac, Don’s Resale Shop, where all the action takes place. After a transaction involving a buffalo nickel, he believes he was abused. Vexed, Don persuades a young junkie named Bobby to help steal the client’s coin collection, but is convinced by a conniving friend, Walter Cole – aka Teach – that Bobby is a doofus, a failure. Bobby ends up scapegoating as the heist plan falls apart and tensions rise in suspicion, anger and violence.
Before the play ends, it becomes evident in this work by Mamet, like his 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Glengarry Glen Ross,” when a charged word can set off a theatrical grenade, that “You can tell that this thing (theft) is not going to succeed,” said Lowe, 61, from Limestone, Maine, who now resides in Vallejo.
He cast Michael Sally of Oakland as Don, Luke Winders of Vallejo as Bobby, and Peter Warden of Marin County as Teach. Of the three, Warden is a veteran of BAS directing, having played Felix Unger a few years ago in a production of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.”
By day a licensed optician in Napa Valley, Lowe chose this piece not only because the action takes place entirely within the confines of a thrift store, but also because it is, he said, “a work of genius”.
“The story arc and the characters are fleshed out so well that it’s like ‘being there,'” he said. “The dialogue is a masterpiece because it’s a play by Mamet and that’s what he writes. The frame seemed to accurately reflect the new state of our room.
A graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Theater Arts, Lowe described the two-hour exploration of life’s lower echelons as a “hard-hitting, raunchy, unsettling piece of Mamet that every adult of consenting age should come see. “.
The actors had a reading a few weeks ago, but, other than that, the cast did all but one rehearsal via Zoom, he said, adding that despite such usual disruption to the normal production process , “We managed to create great characters with meaningful relationships.
Lowe, who has directed around 50 plays and musicals over the years, said his choice of one of Mamet’s early works comes two years after the company was set to open. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams.
“The actors were studied and rehearsed, and then, deeply disappointed when I announced the cancellation of the show,” Lowe recalled in an email. “We were all hoping it would only be for a month or two, but I had a feeling it would be a bit longer. Now here we are, two years later, delaying ‘Cat’ to May 2022,” and adding “American Buffalo” as part of the company’s “first lineup” as the year progresses.
The ongoing pandemic, which some medical experts say may be easing for the time being, “has been a big challenge for our show,” Lowe said, forcing him to move the opening date forward by a week and to end the race on Super Bowl Sunday.
“Arg! he exclaimed of the unexpected scheduling of what amounts to a national holiday.
Assisting Lowe in his latest directorial effort are Stacey Loew, costumes; Scot Slagle, lighting and sound; and Sally Cavallaro, stage manager.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO:
“American Buffalo” by David Mamet at the Bay Area Stage, 515 Broadway St., Vallejo. Sessions are at 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday and again at 8 p.m. on February 11 and 12 and at 3 p.m. on February 13. NOTE: Reservations and proof of vaccination are required. For tickets: (707) 649-1053 or online at www.bayareastage.org.