Sunday, November 24, 2019

Backyard Renaissance and David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” A Perfect Fit.


I have always considered myself an amateur numismatist. I’ve dabbled in it over the years with some help from my father who owned a grocery store and brought home, what looked to him, interesting looking ‘coins’.

We rolled pennies and dimes and I was able to complete coin books with both denominations that were minted in all three of the US Mints. It’s not rocket science but neither did I consider myself a serious coin collector.

Later on I did visit a few pawn -shops, junk stores. I went to outlets where there were serious collectors that traded coins they didn’t need to complete their collections and exchanged or bought others.
Marcel Ferrin, Richard Baird and Francis ercke
In my travels I managed to pick up a few buffalo head nickels. None of them are in very good condition because the dates are worn off. What small numbers of them I do have are in what might be rated as Good condition in the scheme of rating coins. Most coins found at random in any one of a number of off, off side street junk shops can usually be purchased for much below going price.

David Mamet’s 1975 “American Buffalo” had its opening production on Broadway in 1975 after it premiered at the Goodman Theater in Chicago. It won an Obie Award in 1975 and in the 1983 revival it was nominated for the Tony in Best Revival. It is getting a dusting off and will be ready for another Broadway run in March of 2020. So hold on and see it here first.
Richard Baird and Francis Gercke
Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company, the fledgling company just off from a year long residency at The La Jolla Playhouse and is now temporarily housed in the downtown 10th Avenue Arts is currently mounting Mamet’s 1975 “American Buffalo” playing through Dec.7th.   

It’s a perfect venue and fit as it introduces us to three seedy characters that in real time might be part of the 10th Avenue landscape you might see whilst down there.

Director Rosina Reynolds, with only three characters in this black comedy, manages to pull off the heist of the year with her excellent cast, perfect pacing and gentle nudging to build on Mamet’s language that is oft called ‘Mametspeak’. She strikes it rich with the solid gold talent pool she has at her center.

Three petty thieves/ con-men Fran Gercke (Donny), Richard Baird (Teach) and newcomer Marcel Ferrin (Bobby) weave Mamet’s story of their understanding of free enterprise as they plan to take what is clearly not theirs; a valuable coin collection with which to build their fortune.

It’s Chicago around 11:AM. Don/Donny and Bobby are cleaning up after the previous night’s card game. Talk is focused on healthy food, the importance of a good breakfast and who won the game last night.

Soon it turns to the out of town coin dealer who came into his ‘Don’s Resale Shop’ the night before and purchased a buffalo head nickel displayed in Don’s glass showcase for a bargain price of $90.00.  He and Don had settled on that price.

Don is now having second thoughts about the price and feels he was taken advantage of. He conjures up a plot to steal the collector’s entire suitcase of valuable coins that also includes THE nickel. In his scheme, Don (Francis Gercke) as mentor to the young and vulnerable Bobby (Marcel Ferrin) maps out a plan for his gopher to commit a crime that’s about as ludicrous as would be robbing a Brinks Armored Truck.

Marcel Ferrin, Francis Gercke and Richard Baird

They both seem to be on the same page of the ‘how’ when a wild -eyed over the top fuming and angry Teach comes bursting into the shop in a rant about, of all things, a piece of toast. (“Fu**in Ruthie).

Teach, a born hustler, smells that something’s going on between Don and Bobby. Before we know it all three are co conspirators in the action. They go back and forth about who’s in, who’s out. It matters not as they talk the plan to death, since it’s all smoke and mirrors; talking the talk is more important than making the heist in Mamet's world.

After Bobby fails to deliver on the plan, the paradigm changes because Teach sees an opportunity to make a killing for him and Donny. Forget Bobby. Bobby in his own inimitable way won’t go away, he’s in for ride and the money and it seems the abuse.

Baird’s Teach is a veritable time bomb ready to explode from the time he walked into Don’s Shop. He’s a ball of nerves, intimidating, misogynistic, threatening and abusive; strutting back and forth, hiking up his trousers absent-mindedly, ready for the lunge. He is one intimidating dude and as with a history of Baird’s skills and intensity, his character doesn’t disappoint. 

As owner and perhaps the most mildly mannered of the group, Gercke’s Don starts off annoyed and angry with himself for not asking more money, but still patient with Bobby until his irritation builds to a crescendo and he lets loose on the others.
Francis Gercke and Richard Baird
His arc builds slowly and before our eyes he becomes a different person. Again, some marvelous acting and interplay as the energy between the three veers off into a shambling mess.

Ferrin, giving it his first professional shot, and managing to hold his own in some pretty stiff company, is a student at Southwestern College with Ruff Yeager as his mentor.

He’s the fall guy/junkie for both Teach and Don and manages to pull off his character as a frightened and wounded bird, but succeeds in upsetting the professional’s to his own detriment. Bravo to him.  
Marcel Ferrin and Francis Gercke
Top notch technical support comes from Jessica John Gercke with meticulous detail to period clothes, to Tony Cucuzzella’s thorough inclusion of other’s castoff’s including a number of clocks, portraits of random people and some weird looking pieced mounted on the walls, posters and bric-a-bracs.

Joel Britt’s lighting design and Mason Pilevsky’s sound design with outside noises realistic to any downtown community with busses and L-trains in its hood all give the feel of authenticity.    

Sitting through a Mamet plays is an exercise in patience. They are dark and rarely can seen these days much like the buffalo nickel.  Seldom will you find one in as mint condition as this particular production.    

See you at the theatre.


Dates: Through Dec. 7th
Organization: Backyard Renaissance Theatre
Phone: 619- 977-0999
Production Type: Drama
Where: 10 Avenue Arts Center, 930 10th Ave Downtown San Diego
Ticket Prices: $18.00 -$35.00
Web: backyardrenassiance.com
Venue: 10th Avenue Avenue Arts Center
Photo: Daren Scott

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