AQ Arts - Thank Goodness for Kenny Leon, David Mamet, Director John Dillon and American Buffalo: Tru
Thank goodness for Kenny Leon! He is our very own national treasure, and we may not even realize how truly blessed and fortunate we are that this beacon of theatrical cultural diversity and talent continues to call Atlanta home and has made Atlanta the home base for his important True Colors Theatre Company. As the Co-founder and Artistic Director who predates Lin-Manuel Miranda of Alexander Hamilton fame for infusing Broadway with hip and wry diversity, the dignified, exceedingly handsome and imposing Leon together with his Company expands and continues the important path lain while at the helm of the region's nationally-noted Alliance Theatre Company, our premiere Rep Company. Not only a talented actor, successful Tony Award winning Broadway and film director and producer, but in case you didn't realize, Leon also won a Tony for both Best Direction and Best Revival for his Raisin in the Sun and is now back on Broadway doing what he does best, that is when he's not blazing his laser focus on True Colors. (www.kennyleon.com)
The canon of Leon's True Colors is that of diversity and inclusion all done with world class local and national talent: inscrutable and flawless actors, gifted designers and casting director and dedicated and tireless crew and administrators - all whose gifts are in high relief here in this production. That shared mission is reflected in the Atlanta and National Finals of the 2016 August Wilson Monolog Competition which involves high school students nationwide, and innovative fund-raising initiatives like the golf tournament and gala Greens in the Day, Blues in the Night on May 21st which helps subsidize this unique initiative, and, now for creating a SE forum for the unlikely and challenging staging of the brilliant American playwright David Mamet.
Here with American Buffalo one of Mamet's signature works this, might I say, extraordinary trio of actors: Neal Ghant as Teach, Garrett Gray as Bobby and G. Valmont Thomas as Don all cut their theatrical chops on Mamet's densely cerebral yet sparse and spare masterpiece. The actors tautly fill each staccato Mametian phrase and pause with clarity, focus, and the desperation only known by a drowning man. This is the caliber of performance we're accustomed to seeing from the likes of an Al Pacino, or a Jack Lemmon or the inimitable Kevin Spacey with his equal adversary and co-hort Alec Bladwin. All who made their marks and names in Mamet's most well-known play - in their respective 1992 renditions of the 1984 Pulitzer Prize and Tony award winning Glen Garry Glen Ross (Remember the three part lines: Will you go to lunch? If you haven't seen Kevin Spacey deliver these - you must!)
Leon and True Colors were savvy and smart to bring the extremely adroit director with a particular panache for the sometimes stylized and some might say, acquired taste, required for Mamet - the illustrious and internationally known director John Dillon. Truth be told: Mamet is not an easy walk in the park by any means, and audiences must rise to the Mametian occasion, as we are required to do here.
The flawless cast has the patriarch and junk shop owner Don (radiant here with the wisdom, empathy and humanity given to him by G. Valmont Thomas) at its center - a conflicted and thoughtful older, father figure, struggling to make a go of his resale shop, sometime in the mid '70's. A buffalo nickel (what more iconic image for the naive and lost innocence of America and childhood?) brings a hefty ninety dollars that in hindsight he suspects may be worth a good deal more. His side-kick and apprentice, young Bobby, something of a lost soul (played with impeccable timing, humor and pathos by the lean as a string bean Garrett Gray) lacks experience and, perhaps to win respect, and gain access to the club, makes a veiled plan to perhaps re-acquire the coin. Teach (played with seamless swagger, aggressive zeal and complexity by Neal Ghant), persuades his friend Don that Bobby may not be up for the job, and proposes himself as Bob's replacement. Teach and Don strategize that night's proposed burglary while waiting for another friend Fletcher, who Don decides is crucial, who appears to be either late or a no show. Teach tells Don he intends to commit the burglary on his own and while Don tries to persuade him not to take his gun, Bobby appears at the store. The plot takes a turn when Bobby attempts to sell (resell?) Don a buffalo nickel, similar to the one Don had sold his customer. When asked about where he got the coin, Bobby is evasive and Teach suspects that Bobby has completed his own burglary behind their backs. With intricate interplay of suspicion and a subtle game of spy versus spy, the plot unfolds and the tables turn as friendships are pushed to the to the brink of dissolution and the violent melee clouds the waters of truth, trust and just what could be at stake if that trust is misplaced, misused or violated.
The all black ensemble and its direction skillfully re-frames the piece into an inner city context and incites and charges the proceedings with sublimated anguish indigenous to these times of escalating gun violence and where a movement like Black Lives Matter seems imperative to bring both consciousness and hold accountable a culture still rife with flagrant racism, bigotry and the 50 year PTSS past and some might say present Jim Crow mentality that permeates the very essence of our social fabric.
For tickets to True Color Theatre Company's American Buffalo this rare Mamet - discerning viewers if they work at it can find Mamet at its best, should go to the www.truecolorstheatre.org or 1-877-725-8849. For groups of ten or more call (404) 532-1901 ext. 201. The show runs through March 6th and will be performed at Fulton Country's Southwest Arts Center, located at 915 New Hope Road, Atlanta, Georgia 30331 in the Cascade area. It's a bit of a haul so be sure to allow plenty of time to reach this lovely venue with free parking. True Color's season closes the season this summer with Smart People, a comedy by Lydia Diamond known for Stick Fly and the Bluest Eye which runs July 12 - August 7, 2016. The play explores "race, class, friendship, search for love, and identity in a complex world."