Story Hour

Out There The Business

Despite these momentary lapses into ideological cant, Curran lets no one escape his wicked satire. ACT UP protesters are referred to as "people who chant annoying things that rhyme and lie in traffic." In a spoof of hetero-guy talk, when fellow straight man Cody asks why Lester's character loves Cody's character, Lester responds: "Uh -- because of his masculinarity, man." "All men are men, man!" Cody fumes, obviously disappointed that he didn't elicit a more particular kind of flattery.

Finally, the story of Lester's coming-out is as much about discovering one's voice as figuring out who to kiss. As the play progresses, Lester's flattened syntax of "man"s and "wanna"s begins to crack and reveal the topography of personality. When stroking Sparky's deltoids, Lester waxes awkwardly poetic, at one point calling the skin "papery," a word that sends him into paroxysms of girlish giggles. Through the stammering and bad grammar, Curran shows us the underside of how self-knowledge is created: by individuals reaching past ready-made meanings into the chaos of precise personal expression. Encapsulating this herculean search for a self, Lester says: "Every day -- this is so too much and I don't know how much more of me I can take." In these moments, Curran transcends his agenda and lets us glimpse into the brambled core of his subject.

-- Carol Lloyd

American Buffalo
By David Mamet. Directed by Louis Parnell. Starring Tony Abou-Ganim, Ian Hirsch, and Frank Potter. Presented by the Genesius Theater Company at the 450 Geary Studio Theater, 450 Geary, through Feb. 2. Call 673-1172.

If capitalism teaches its young to be selfish, competitive, and paranoid, hearing about it these days from a playwright like Bertolt Brecht is not very persuasive. Brecht was an armchair fan of Stalin who had a solution to the dark side of the West, a solution that all but crumbled a few years ago. In the name of his "Alienation Effect" he abandoned the bourgeois conceit of emotion, and wanted people to seethe with sensible communist anger after seeing his plays. American Buffalo, by David Mamet, is more subtle. It's the other Mamet play in town, attracting less attention than the West Coast premiere of The Cryptogram; but this 2-decade-old satire on American business still feels fresh in the hands of a skillful cast. It manages to out-Brecht Brecht without sacking emotion or solving the crisis of capitalism.

The play is being revived at the 450 Geary Studio Theater in the wake of a short-lived movie with Dustin Hoffman. The version playing at 450 Geary should satisfy anyone who likes Mamet for what he's good at -- the tide of street-slang music, the surging duets of nonsense dialogue and their gut-felt arcs of emotion. The play is about a junk-shop owner's plans to steal a buffalo nickel back from one of his customers. He promises a kid named Bobby a cut of the profit for performing the actual heist, but his friend Teach convinces him that Bobby lacks the experience to rob a house, and by the end of Act 1 Donny fires the boy and enlists Teach.

Tony Abou-Ganim plays Teach as an enormous, blustering con who probably couldn't rob a hot-dog stand. Bobby, performed by Frank Potter, is a glum, shy, loping kid who takes object lessons in "business" from the two older men. Ian Hirsch plays an excellent Donny Dubrow, proprietor of the kitchenware and trinket shelves that surround them on the set. "Business is business," Donny and Teach like to say, "and friends are friends," but their definitions, like most people's, are fuzzy. Mamet's dialogue traces the shapes of feelings with its back-and-forth rhythms. Brecht considered it artistic surrender to pay such attention to feeling, but these actors know what they're doing, and after they warm up to Mamet's routines the play is unstoppable. The surging dialogue's premonitions of rage explode into a tantrum that brings down Donny's junk shelves and leaves young Bobby bleeding from the ear. It's magnificent theater, satisfying in a way that Brecht's polemic plays never were, and when those plays start to thump like embarrassing jokes I imagine Buffalo will still be alive, raising old questions about "business" to generations who don't know about communism.

-- Michael Scott Moore

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