“We all live like the cavemen.” – Walter "Teach" Cole
Advance Warning: A sign at the entrance of Wyndham’s theatre warns the audience about explicit language in American Buffalo. I would love to imitate that and warn you all, for the sake of giving a detailed review of the play, I choose to use some of that explicit language in my blog post. So, please read at your own risk – thank you!
In case you missed the first part of my review, and want to take a look, here it is.
American Buffalo, as it brings to life a day in the lives of three no-hopers that are dying to have a shot at their slice of the American Dream, addresses the themes of friendship, loyalty and business. The play, in particular, examines how the new corporate culture penetrates into daily lives and brings about unbearable cost to people through meddling with the core “values” they have held for the longest time. One can lie, break business deals, and simply do whatever it takes to get his own way in the new world, and there is no place for trust. Teach, coming from outside, symbolizes these “new values” in a way. He “teaches” Don how the new world works: “All I mean, a guy can be too loyal, Don. Don’t be dense on this. What are we saying here? Business.”
Second Act finds Don at his shop talking on the phone — probably to the guy that is interested in buying the Buffalo nickel — very kindly and then swearing once he hangs up. It is past 11pm and neither Fletcher nor Teach have shown up yet.
But Don has an unexpected visitor: Bob. He has a Buffalo nickel that he claims he bought from “a guy.” He wants to sell it to Don, but he also wants to know why Don is still at the shop at this late hour. Don, who broke the business deal he had earlier made with Bob, now tells him a lie that he, Fletcher and Teach will play cards again tonight.
Teach comes in, says he’s late because his watch broke off, and he’s not pleased to see Bobby in the shop: “Fuck is he doing here?”
Fletcher is not showing up. Bobby shows up with a Buffalo nickel in his hand. What’s going on? Damian Lewis’ crazy eyes attest to Teach getting rather paranoid about Fletcher and Bobby scheming behind their backs. This paranoia is brewing over the course of the second act culminating in a crazy climax!
Once Bobby leaves, Teach quickly gets into his “business” mood. He has this idea of calling the guy’s house to make sure he’s not home. “This is planning… This is preparation…” Teach now feels like one of THE guys, a businessman! Damian Lewis’ portrayal of this overexcited Teach — so much so that he just cannot contain himself about how he has had this utterly clever idea of calling the guy’s home and giving a wrong number in case he answers the phone — is beyond brilliant and the energy he brings to the stage is simply mind-blowing!
But where is Fletcher? Teach says Fletcher should be horsewhipped with a horsewhip, and tries to manipulate Don again, now about Fletcher, claiming Fletcher cheats at cards, and he did, too, last night: “He draws two, comes out with a flush?” And, when Don tells him they had a business deal with Fletcher, Teach snubs and says “we had a deal with Bobby” reminding Don of the fact that he already broke a business deal made with another friend. And, he thinks Bob could be a cheat, too: “The kid comes in here, he has got a certain coin, it’s like the one you used to have… the guy you brought in doesn’t show, we don’t know where he is.”
Fletcher or no Fletcher, Teach is ready to roll 🙂 He gets a gun out of his pocket and starts loading it. Don doesn’t want a gun to be involved in this operation, but Teach has an explanation “It’s a personal thing, Don. A personal thing of mine. A silly personal thing.” And, I believe him 🙂 We can all see that Teach is not the type that will pull his gun and kill anyone — he is just dying to have a shot at something and now, with this gun in hand, he again feels like one of THE guys.
There is a frantic knock on the door. It’s Bobby. He has news. Fletcher has been mugged earlier in the day and is now in the hospital with a broken jaw. Teach is beyond cynical now that he does not believe a single word of Bob’s story — he does not trust him and sees the whole thing as a scheme against their big operation.
Don and Teach insist Bob tell them which hospital Fletcher is at. Bob says he might be at the Masonic, and when it turns out Fletcher is not there, Teach goes on a roll with Bobby: “Now, don’t get smart with me, Bob, don’t get smart with me, you young fuck, we’ve been sweating blood all day on this and I don’t want your smart mouth on it so all we want some answers.” Now that he is persuaded by Teach about the way things are, Don agrees Bobby better answer Teach, too.
When there is no answer, Teach gets out of control. Don saying “You better answer him” to Bobby probably emboldens Teach a bit too much that he turns violent and he hits Bobby on the head with a toilet pump: “I’ll kick your fucking head in… And, I don’t give a shit.”
Bobby is crying now. He’s not crying just because blood is coming out of his ear and he is physically hurting, but he sees Don’s trust for him has dwindled, and that is too much to take in for this vulnerable young man. And, oh my god, I am at Row B, and Tom Sturridge is on the floor, at the edge of the stage, crying at my face. Amazing. I confess that I did not know about this young, brilliant star until he was cast in American Buffalo and I can confidently say he’s going places. Sturridge gives us this slow-witted, lethargic youth that just does look up to Don, maybe as a father figure, and wants to do right by him.
The phone rings. It’s Ruthie and she tells Don that Fletcher is in the Columbus Hospital with a broken jaw. Don is speechless. He genuinely regrets he did not believe Bobby and moreover let Teach hit him… while Teach is still, after finding out that the hospital story is true, trying to figure out where Bobby got that nickel. Don starts hitting Teach and yelling at him: “You come in here, you stick this poison in me… You make life of garbage.” Could the poison Teach has injected into Don be the new corporate culture — putting business over loyalty and friendship and crushing whatever is on its way?
Bobby makes a confession. He did not really do his job right earlier in the day. He never really saw “the guy” leaving with a suitcase. And, to compensate for his incompetence, he went and bought a Buffalo nickel for Don.
Teach completely LOSES it and starts trashing the junk shop!
“The Whole Entire World.
There is no Law.
There is no Right and Wrong.
The World is Lies.
There is no Friendship.
Every Fucking Thing.
Every God-forsaken thing.
We all live like the cavemen!”
The façade completely disappears now. Damian Lewis masterfully peels the skin and shows us how aware Teach is, in fact, of what he does not and will never have — he is now just a broken guy with all his insecurities in the open.
“You don’t know what I go through. I put my dick on the chopping block.
I hock my fucking watch…
I go out there. I am out there everyday.
There is nothing out there.
I fuck myself.”
These lines finally bring out the blue-collar desperation in Teach. Over the course of the play, he does try his best to keep his “know-it-all” façade intact, possibly because he sees any hint of vulnerability as a weakness, but he gives out in the end. This is just another fucking day… most probably the day before was exactly like today… and, almost for sure, the following day will be the same shit.
Don calms Teach down, and tells him to go get his car so they can take Bobby to the hospital. It is raining outside. We see Damian Lewis’ brilliant paper hat making skills on stage; Teach wears his paper hat, and makes sure to check with Don that they are still friends, “Are you mad at me?” With a genuine smile on his face upon getting a “No” from Don — Teach leaves to get his car. But the façade makes a final appearance before he leaves: “You should clean this place up.” As if it was not him that trashed the place… 🙂
Bobby: “I’m sorry, Donny.”
Don: “That’s allright.”
By choosing “business” over “friendship” these guys have come to the brink of losing their most valuable possession… It was, in fact, their friendship that they put on the chopping block… just to feel like one of THE guys… But they, deep down, know that friendship is all they have and they genuinely want to keep it the way it is. That’s why as they do their “business” they constantly check about the status of their friendship: “Are you mad at me?” or “I’m not mad at you” to make sure for themselves or assure the other side that they are still friends, respectively. And, at the end of “this fucking day” what they still have in life is their friendship.
STANDING OVATION for the brilliant cast and the creative team!