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Playing with Words

Mamet's "American Buffalo"



Derek Sitter, owner of Volcanic Theatre Pub, is directing and acting in David Mamet's 1975 work, "American Buffalo." This play is not just strong in language, but is also powerful in its social commentary on the decline of, what was then and is still now, the family and social structure. Producing this play has been a long awaited dream of Sitters, and of loyal Mamet fans for some time now. The dream is soon to become reality as "American Buffalo" will open in May.

The play is set in the backroom of a Chicago pawn shop owned by the criminally opportunistic character Don (played by veteran VTP actor Wayne Newcome). Don has sold a buffalo nickel to an unnamed customer for $90. Though satisfied at the time of the transaction, he soon comes to regret it and begins to ponder and scheme. Don no longer feels as if he is the winning party. He now thinks he's been robbed in the deal, and wants that nickel back and then some.

Bob (played by Nathan Woolworth) then gets roped into the plan. He is a simple young man whose habits are suggested to be drug-based, although it is never overtly said. The trust and abilities of Bob (sometimes called Bobby), are immediately questioned as the play opens with Don scolding the young man. The heist they are planning seems to be falling apart before it even takes place.

A poker buddy of Don's, Teach (played by Sitter), finds out about the opportunity and immediately seeks out a piece of the pie by persuading Don to allow him to replace the inexperienced, but well-intended Bob.

One more hand comes into play as Don insists their other poker buddy, Fletcher (an unmanned character), join in on the scheme. The plan is supposed to be simple and carried out quickly, making all involved richer in less than a day's time. However, these are not the cards to be dealt the misguided entrepreneurs.

Greed soon overwhelms this once-close clan and the heist becomes hollow as trust turns to suspicion and individual intention comes into question. "American Buffalo" is a play about loyalty, friends and family all taking a backseat to money.

"Mamet knew this in 1975 and it is still true today," says Sitter.

The American author, playwright, screenwriter and director is behind many notable works, including "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1981), "The Untouchables" (1987), "Wag the Dog" (1997) and "Hannibal" (2001). He is known for his distinct writing, crafted for effect, as well as for the pace and rhythm, with dialogue that crashes together and overlaps. Sitter wanted to stay true to Mamet's style out of respect for the quality and skill created by this Oscar and Pulitzer award-winning master of words.

Sitter discusses with his actors the importance of having an objective. "What does each character want? What do they need? What is at stake here?" Sitter asks them. Throughout the first reading and subsequent rehearsals, he stops his actors if they stray off-script or if the pace of the scene doesn't strike the right tempo. When asked why he is so strict, he says the playwright has already perfected the work.

"What the character is revealing is already in the script," says Sitter. "It'd be an insult to Mamet to run away from that."

"American Buffalo" by David Mamet

May 5 to 7, 7:30 p.m.

Volcanic Theatre Pub

70 SW Century Dr., Bend

$12 adv., $15 door

"American Buffalo," by Mamet, directed by Derek Sitter, and opening at the Volcanic Theatre Pub, will be the first installation of the Source's new Friday night culture segment, "Source on the Scene," airing on ABC and CBS. Source reporters will present behind the scenes interviews for events opening over the upcoming weekend in Central Oregon. These Oregon features are produced by Curtis Vogel for Zolo Media. Vogel, a Mamet fan, was previously a producer for NBC's Today Show for 12 years. The weekly culture segments will begin in May. Stay tuned.

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