By Jael Wong
Who would have thought foul language could get such a warm reception?
On Tues., Sept. 2, the crowd attending the first of several performances of American Buffalo at the Reeve Theatre responded with delight as the cast cussed and engaged in verbal jousting. The David Mamet play, which won the Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play in 1977, is being performed in a co-production between Ground Zero Theatre and the University of Calgary’s Department of Drama.
The story involves three lowlifes and their plan to steal a collection of coins, among which is a rare buffalo nickel. The play takes us through the hours leading up to the planned heist and is not so much about the plot to steal the coins as it is about the way the characters act and interact. Played by veteran actors Jim Leyden and Trevor Leigh respectively, Donny and Teach’s witty, quirky exchanges had the audience chuckling throughout the night’s performance. And yes, they did a lot of swearing. The more they swore, the more we laughed.
The role of Bobby is played by Phil Fulton, now in his fifth year of drama. To prepare for the role, Fulton says he observed street kids–their physicality and the way they hold themselves. In approaching the role, he focused on the relationships between the characters and what their needs were. So what was it like working with professionals Jim Leyden and Trevor Leigh?
"It was very, very intimidating at first," says Fulton. "But they made me feel welcome from day one and they’re just very good guys."
Asked what he learned from working with Leyden and Leigh, Fulton responds, "It’s the little things that I’ve noticed so far."
For example, the two actors would come to rehearsals prepared, with everything done.
"There was no hemming or hawing," says Fulton.
He adds the difference he observed between professional actors and a student like himself was the level of confidence. While students often feel their way around a role, more experienced actors are confident and know what it is they have to do.
Fulton believes those who see American Buffalo will have a greater appreciation for Mamet and the way he writes dialogue, which goes back and forth "like ping-pong." He thinks the play could really open people’s eyes to theatre and would make an enjoyable play for young cynical kids, adding that he himself once had preconceived notions about theatre being drab and boring. Evidently, his views have changed.
"I’m very proud of the show," he says, "and I’m proud to be a part of it."
American Buffalo runs through Sept. 4 at the Reeve Theatre.