Review of American Buffalo at Stages Theatre

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(note, since this is not a review for OC Weekly, dear readers must realize that it’s not edited and may have a tendency to ramble; also, if  a theater wants to cite any mention of this, it should be credited to Fermented Beers, not OC Weekly).

      David Mamet is a dick. A know-it-all, cock-swaggering, expert-in-all-things fucking blowhard. He’s written books pillorying the Stanislavsky and method-schools of acting; he’s written books about his conversion from “brain-dead” liberal into asshole neo-con; he’s written books blasting Jews for turning their backs on religion and the nation of Israel.

He might actually have wonderful, insightful things to say but, since he’s a dick, why give him a thorough listen?

That dickness, in a large degree, stems from his own heightened sense of masculinity. In the esteemed theater critic/director/playwright Charles Marowitz’ words, Mamet comes across as a man “who, I suspect, has a pretty hairy chest. He comes from Chicago, which was the hometown of other tough guys like Al Capone and “Bugs” Moran. Judging by his writing style, I would think he’s pretty well-hung. Certainly, he thinks so, and his demeanor seems to suggest that testosterone was as mother’s milk to him. I’d hate to tangle with him mano y mano; he’d probably level me with one blow and then, to drive home the point, kick me in the nuts. He’s one tough “mother.”

But he’s also one hell of an excellent playwright (or, at least, used to be, before the seductive sirens of Hollywood lured him into the realm of film.) He doesn’t tell great stories, offer much in the way of metaphor, and, in terms of creative vision  he’s a blip on the radar compared to his main contemporary in the 1970s and early 1980s, Sam Shepard (who also left the stage, for the most part, to make a buck or few in Hollywood).

Mamet’s gift lies not in structure, character, plot or lofty, sophisticated poetry. It’s in dialogue. The characters in his early, greatest plays, like Sexual Perversity in Chicago, Glengarry Glen Ross and American Buffalo, are not poets or preachers; they’re very real, coarse, brutally honest people who never miss an opportunity to drop a fuck/cunt/cocksucker into a conversation.

Of course, there’s more—a great deal more—to Mamet’s plays than just the foul words. It’s the rhythm of that dialogue, the staccato bursts, the measured pauses, the ebbs and flows, the rapid-fire delivery and spaces in between the words, that makes his plays seem so electric, so effortless, so real. There’s a great deal more to his craft than initially meets the ear.

And, as one character says early on in American Buffalo, currently receiving a solid production at Stages Theatre in Fullerton, there’s a lot more going on than what seems to be happening on the surface.

American Buffalo, a 1975 play by Mamet, takes place in a junk store (i.e., pawn shop) in one of the more shit-hole areas of the city with broad shoulders that loves to work: Chicago.k. The three characters are low-level thieves. One, Donnie, the guy who runs the store, seems to have a little more going on upstairs, and in his soul, than his colleagues: Teach, a manically energetic low-level criminal, and Bobby, a timid junkie.

But they’re all interested in purloining the coin collection of a guy who recently bought a rare buffalo-head nickel from Donnie. Knowing the guy is an avid collector and probably has a lot more coins in his pad, Donnie and, at first, Bobby, hatch up a plan to rob his apartment. But Teach, not trusting Bobby’s criminal enterprise, basically kicks him out of the deal.

Many commentators have said over the years that American Buffalo is an indictment on Capitalism; Teach, in particular, extolls the virtues of free enterprise and wails on about how if everybody was just left alone to make their mark, we’d all be better off. That’s sounds like bonafide libertarian philosophy but the simple reality is that this champion of free enterprise is also an absolute crook, who is going to gain his profit through plundering some chump.

That might be a not-so-veiled knock on the hypocrisy of Capitalism on Mamet’s part—ultimately, profit always comes through exploiting other people in some fashion, —but American Buffalo really seems more concerned with themes of friendship, loyalty and masculinity borne out through the terse and coarse words of three members of the American underclass.

Focus on that word masculinity. Mamet has drawn enormous heat over the years from people who view him as misogynistic. And there is ample evidence of that. In American Buffalo alone, women are repeatedly called cunts and cock-suckers, a trend that surfaces in many of his plays. And the few times he actually writes a woman character, such as in Oleanna or Speed-the-Plow, they’re usually portrayed as pure sex objects, or manipulative and agenda-driven.

Mamet is locker-room, fishing trip theater, at least in terms of his testosterone-laden dialogue.  And, in American Buffalo, it’s the character of Teach who most embodies that. While Danny (Mike Martin, in his typically multi-faceted dimensionality) is far more practical, level-headed and, usually, above the fray in terms of sexism, and Bobby (a very convincing and pained Adam Evans) seems emblematic of the weak-kneed male in his genuflection to the opposite sex (he’s really just a sweet-hearted kid trying to prove his mettle among rougher men) jib, Teach is awash in sexism, if not pure pathology. Bob Tully, perhaps the most intense actor on the Orange County storefront theater scene, knows that and mines Teach’s rough-hewn dialogue to rich effect. Yet, what makes Tully’s performance most exceptional is that there is a layer of insecurity and even downright politeness and reverence to his Teach. As vulgar, aggressive and downright homicidal as the gun-toting Teach may be, there’s an almost child-like need for acceptance that Tully convincingly portrays.

Note the word child-like. For, ultimately, that is what these characters most resemble: Kids, not in a candy store or on a playground, but in the far more rough-and-tumble mercenary jungle of adulthood, desperately trying to fit in with their peers, to prove themselves, to make their mark. There’s nothing of the sentimentalist in Mamet’s writing; but there is a keening ache that director Katie Chidester and her compelling cast manage to convey: that, each in his own way, each character is striving to gain respect from his fellow males. The fact they are all so far away from actually finding that imbues American Buffalo with a sense of tragedy that makes it compelling viewing.

And how about that fucking set? Designed by Fred Kinney and built and decorated by Jon Gaw, it is impressive to say the least. There used to be a legendary pawn shop a few blocks down from Stages on Harbor and Commonwealth, owned by an equally legendary guy—who had experience with guns in his own right (the rumor is he once shot his wife’s lawyer in the ass during divorce proceedings). Whatever the case, this set, filled from floor to ceiling with junk, works on two levels: It’s just a gas to see the loads of second-hand junk assembled; but also the apparent random chaos of the interior of this pawn shop is an interesting visual counterpoint to the search for order—in terms of their quest for respect and fitting in—that these characters vainly try to embark upon.

American Buffalo runs through Feb. 19 at Stages. http://www.stagesoc.org.

Play review: Topdog/Underdog, SCR

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http://www.ocweekly.com/2012-01-26/culture/topdog-underdog-south-coast-repertory-suzan-lori-parks/

From the review:

No, the characters, situation, language and—most obvious—color of the faces in Parks’ 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning play are a world removed from the well-heeled, sophisticated fare of South Coast Repertory favorites such as Richard Greenberg andDonald Margulies. Yet, the power, potency and streetwise poetry of her play make it every bit as astonishing as any of the sublimely talented writers SCR has dutifully trotted out over the years.”

LA TIMES: LIBERAL TOOL?

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Gee, I guess the Los Angeles Times is a tool of the great, creeping, liberal ogre. Why else would it run a story on the Republican rebuttal to Barry’s state of the union address that feature prominent Republicans saying the most hackneyed, insipid, brain-dead bullshit? Newt’s is particularly brilliant, bringing up Obama’s association with Saul Alinksky. He must have studied that when he was thinking about leaving his disease-stricken wives and pocketing millions from Freddie Mac. Disgusting little hypocritical prick.

UPDATED: 4:01 p.m. And now this story

I mean, really, how can anyone take this guy seriously? I’m not about to say Ronald Reagan was a master at anything other than one-way communication, but for this mangy, discredited, wiffle-waffling, opportunistic, slimy scum-bag to cloak himself in the mantle of Reaganish conservatism–when he clearly railed on the chief–is absolute  bullshit. Newt supporters: when you wake up tomorrow morning, take a good long look in the mirror and recite the following: I am a fucking tool.

RUBE! (or: blowing my own horn…)

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Found out today that a short film written by Gavin Carlton based on my full-length play, “Rube,” received honorable mention in the 3rd Annual Sundance TRMS Contest.

 

Following are links to articles written in the Los Angeles Times and OC Register about the play, which ran in Fullerton in 2003-04. (I’m fairly certain it’s the only play in the history of Southern California theater to be the subject of columns by the lead sportswriters of the largest local papers in the region…)

Here’s a link to a column that T.J. Simers wrote in the Los Angeles Times about ghostly apparitions surrounding the play, in its 2004 production at the Orange County Theater Festival.

Below is the full text of the Oct. 17, 2003 world premiere production, at STAGES Theatre in Fullerton:

Rube!’ looks like a winner // World premiere portrait of a boisterous, early 20th-century pitcher transcends its baseball theme.

October 17, 2003

Byline:ERIC MARCHESE   

 

    Just as baseball fans everywhere gear up for the World Series, along comes “Rube!,” Joel Beers’ joyous, energetic and wholly original take on the career of obscure Philadelphia Athletics left-hander George Edward Waddell, known to his teammates and fans as Rube.

      Now in its world premiere at Stages Theatre in Fullerton, “Rube!” isn’t just for baseball fans. “Rube!” is loaded with real-life (and now legendary) historical figures such as gritty player Ty Cobb, manager Connie Mack, sportswriter Grantland Rice and social activist Ida Tarbell. Like your uproarious comedy tinged with pathos? “Rube!” should satisfy. Want a story that’s equal parts fact and fiction? “Rube!” fills the bill.

 

    The A’s lefty, we’re told, was “virtually unhittable” from the 1902 to the 1907 seasons, and a big part of the magic of Beers’ script is that it makes so compelling a figure of a man unknown to all but the most diehard of baseball enthusiasts. All the more compelling is that “Rube!” describes its protagonist as “a boozer and a brawler, a hero and a heel, a lover and a loser, a nobody and a superstar” and “a big, overgrown kid with an even bigger appetite for life.” With its cinema-like technique, randomly criss-crossing the years 1902-1922, “Rube!” familiarizes us with a figure so much larger than life he’d put the Babe himself to shame.

 

   More critically, though, Beers’ script frames the difficulties confronted by anyone trying to define the “real” Waddell, as opposed to the welter of myths surrounding him. “Rube!” could have been a fairly straightforward account of the life and death of an obscure major league pitcher of yore, or a partly comical, partly sentimental biography. But in the hands of playwright Beers, director Patrick Gwaltney and a solid cast and crew, “Rube!” is a rowdy, boisterous paean not only to baseball, but also to individuality and the American spirit.

   In this case, the someone wrestling to separate fact from myth is Philadelphia Inquirer sports reporter Rice, played with single-minded intensity by Nick Boicourt. It’s 1922, 15 years since Waddell’s glory years with the A’s and eight years since his death at age 37. Rice is determined to give his readers a glimpse of reality while poking holes in the tall tales — a framework that gives the freewheeling “Rube!” a sense of structure.

   Along the way, we see the young, rural Pennsylvania pitcher’s first encounter with his new teammates on the perpetually cellar-dwelling A’s, his nickname’s origins, his fun-loving approach to even the most-feared batters, his unwitting attempts to break baseball’s then carefully guarded color line, his debut in a Broadway play, and his on-again, off-again romance with the crusading Tarbell.

    Gwaltney’s fluid staging suits Beers’ text well, meshing accounts of Waddell’s aiding the downtrodden and chasing firetrucks with the script’s many memorable moments: Rube assists a songwriter in creating the melody to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”; wolfs down a cooked chicken at a charity ball, surrounded by snobby Ivy Leaguers; and, using a lemon, strikes out Ed Delahanty (Bill Landsman) on three pitches. Rube sings and barks like a dog to coax a vendor into letting him taste the new “red hot dachshund on a bun,” then sketches a cartoon and christens the treat “barking hot dogs.” A montage of Rube’s many off-the-field indiscretions — each one ending with a self-surprised “oops!,” including his decking of a policeman — is a rowdy delight.

    The script’s portrayal of this “ornery, outrageous, joyous” man who loved fishing, boozing and throwing a baseball would fail miserably without the right lead. Brad Whitfield is wholly credible as Waddell — as big and musclebound as any jock, as trusting and naïve as a child. In Whitfield we see a bear of a man wildly, insanely, joyously alive, a misfit easier to like from afar than he must have been to know in person.

    Gwaltney surrounds Whitfield with a panoply of talented character actors: Howard Patterson as Rube’s bucolic manager, the earthy-but-fair disciplinarian Mack; Steven Lamprinos as self-described “dumb-as-dirt catcher” Ossee “Schreck” Schreckengaust; Boicourt’s inquisitive Rice; Sean Hesketh’s sneering, cold-blooded Cobb; and Darri Kristin, whose petite stature belies her portrayal of Ida Tarbell as a fast-talking firebrand (a clever touch of ’30s screwball comedies) less intrigued by Rube’s athletic skills than by the public’s fascination with him.

   Dave Clucas lends atmosphere aplenty by playing banjo, guitar and harmonica in the onstage guise of two characters, a minstrel and a songwriter. Gwaltney and Jon Gaw’s set is pungent — newspaper clippings and historical photos, patriotic bunting, vintage scoreboards and locker room equipment and Rice’s paper-littered desk. Michael Skinner and Kirk Huff’s lighting design is likewise evocative, while Gaw’s sound design uses period music (ragtime), crowds shouting, bats whiffing and 95-mph baseballs being caught in leather gloves. The uncredited costumes — notably the A’s pinstripes — are sharp.     Despite Beers’ disclaimer that “Rube!” takes liberties with the facts, the net result is a rowdily funny show that, like its hero, has a heart the size of a baseball diamond.

emarchesewriter@aol.com

 

When: Through Oct. 25. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays

Where: Stages Theatre, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton

How much: $15 ($12 students/seniors)

Length: About two hours

Suitability: All ages

Call: (714) 525-4484“Rube!” throws nothing but strikes in story of an obscure baseball figure. Page 41

And here is a preview written by OC Register sportswriter Randy Youngman on the play, before its appearance in the 2004 Orange County Theater Festival

 

TOP OF THE 2ND
Pitcher Waddell a hit with ‘Rube!’

July 22, 2004

Byline:RANDY YOUNGMAN  The Orange County Register 

FULLERTON If you’re a baseball fan, you might have heard or read about George Edward “Rube” Waddell, a turn-of-the-20th-century pitcher who won seven strikeout titles, recorded four consecutive 20-victory seasons for the Philadelphia A’s in the early 1900s and eventually was honored with a bronzed bust in Cooperstown.

     But Waddell’s exploits on the mound aren’t what made him famous or the primary reason he was major-league baseball’s biggest drawing card until Babe Ruth came along.

     Waddell was considered one of baseball’s most colorful characters and one of its original flakes — a wild and crazy guy who ran off the mound to chase fire engines, played marbles with kids under the stands during games and sometimes disappeared for days between starts to go fishing, gambling, drinking and/or womanizing.

     It is difficult to separate truth from myth because there are so many stories about “Rube,” a Pennsylvania farmboy who got stuck with his nickname early in his career because he seemed like a country bumpkin who just fell off the turnip truck.

     Did he really skip games to tend bar?

    Did he sometimes order his fielders off the field during exhibition games then strike out the side?

    Did he always wear red firefighter gear under his baseball uniform and often run into burning buildings to try to rescue imperiled residents?

   Did he engage in name-calling pitching duels with rival Cy Young and continually mock a mean-spirited contemporary named Ty Cobb?

   Did he wrestle alligators, get bitten by a lion and train a flock of geese to jump rope?

   Did he get hurt during late-season horseplay with a teammate in 1905, the year he led the AL in victories, ERA and strikeouts, preventing him from pitching in the World Series against the New York Giants? Or did the gamblers get to him?

    Did he get married four times in six years and get thrown  in jail for assaulting more than one set of in-laws?

   Was the hard-throwing left-hander really a “souse-paw” who couldn’t control his drinking?

   All of these activities and allegations have been reported, but it is unclear how much the truth has been embellished over the years.

   What we do know for certain is that Waddell was born on Friday the 13th in October 1876 and died of tuberculosis on April Fools’ Day in 1914, at age 37, in a San Antonio sanitarium.

    We also know his many eccentricities and his zany behavior exasperated many a manager and led to his frequent team changes until legendary Philadelphia manager “Connie” Mack took him under his wing, allowing him the latitude to showcase his immeasurable pitching talent.

    All of the stories and anecdotes, apocryphal or not, made Edward “Rube” Waddell — the man, the myth, the legend — a perfect subject for a local theatrical production called “Rube!”, which was written by Fullerton resident Joel Beers and is being performed four more nights at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, as part of the inaugural Orange County Theater Festival in Fullerton.

    Originally performed last fall at a smaller stagefront theater in Fullerton, “Rube!” was one of four critically acclaimed plays brought back for the festival at the larger, 246-seat outdoor amphitheatre at the historic Muckenthaler mansion (1201 W. Malvern Ave.)

    It is Beers’ eighth full-length play, his first revolving around a sports figure. As a longtime baseball fan and former Anaheim sports writer who once dreamed of becoming a baseball broadcaster, Beers became fascinated by the life story of Waddell, once described by political columnist George Will as “the strangest man to ever play baseball.”

    “The jury is still out (on) whether Rube was slightly retarded, an inveterate alcoholic, a big, overgrown kid with an incredible lust for life — or a little bit of everything,” said Beers, also an associate editor for OC Weekly and OC Golf magazines.

    I thoroughly enjoyed Sunday’s production of “Rube!” The story of Waddell’s life, heavily fictionalized, is retold through the character of legendary sports writer Grantland Rice, as forcefully portrayed by actor Nick Boicourt Jr. Bradley Whitfield, as Rube, and Bob Molasses, as Mack, also deliver compelling performances.

    If you’re a sports fan, a baseball fan or merely a theater fan, you’ll also be entertained by “Rube!”, which Beers hopes someday to take to an even larger venue in Los Angeles. The final four festival performances are tonight through Sunday. Admission is $15 ($12 for students and seniors). For more ticket information, call (714) 441-2381 or (714) 738-6595. Somewhere, I’ll bet Rube is laughing, too — as he chases a fire truck.

(714) 796-5050 ext. 1026 or

ryoungman@ocregister.com

 

2012 Theater Preview OC WEEKLY

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2012 theater preview in today’s issue of  OC Weekly:

A primer on how to sift through the bullshit (caution: takes work and critical thinking…)

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(NOTE: AS I AM STILL TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO FORMAT THIS BLOG, EVERYTHING IN BLUE IS A HYPER-LINK. Click on it and it will magically transport you somewhere else…)

     I am constantly amazed by the amount of disinformation, misinformation and paranoid, screeching,  the-sky-is falling blarney that zips around the internet on a second-by-second basis.

     

     The internet has given all of us an incredible tool to seek out information; unfortunately, the sheer glut of comments, posts, links, rants, ravings and assorted quasi-intellectual pablum and nonsense makes it very difficult to sort shit out without some kind of filter. We are exposed to all kinds of “information.” But the ability to process all that information is sorely lacking for most of us.

   

      It boils down to this: who can you “trust” to give you accurate information? Well, no one really. Every on-line magazine, blog, news source and site is created by human minds.  Those minds may have certain agendas or philosophies they wish to espouse; they may be staffed by people who get their information wrong; they may be in the business of merely pulling as much traffic as possible in order to lure on-line advertisers, in order to make money.

   

     Whether it’s the New York Times, deemed a bastion of liberalism by many, or the Wall Street Journal, the most conservative of large newspapers, many people may not trust the content they’re reading based on their own biases, perspectives and opinions that one site or another is pushing an agenda they don’t agree with.

     

      Which means that, by and large, we look for, and share, those sites that support our own contentions, and avoid those that we feel don’t. Basically, we choose to support anything that fits within our personal prism, and choose to ignore anything that doesn’t–even if, on some level, we may doubt our own assumptions.

   

       So what’s the answer? Seek out as many different viewpoints and perspectives as possible–particularly when it comes to “news of the day.”  See what champions of the so-called left and so-called right are saying. Look for the paranoid ranters. Look for the more centrist. Perhaps, by absorbing a variety of different perspectives and through applying “critical thinking” to what you’re reading, you might be able to begin sifting through all the screaming and yelling, and actually begin forming your own opinion. An opinion based on a sampling of many differrent opinions.

     

      And, above all else, READ!

   

       Here’s a list of websites that I try to hit on a daily or weekly basis. The ones in italics are sites I hit every day. I don’t agree with everything, and sometimes, anything, on any of them. But it’s a start in the rather challenging task of forming your own opinion in a world with so much clashing information.

FROM THE RIGHT

Drudgereport.com. It’s a news aggregator, meaning it links to a slew of websites around the web. But it’s a very influential website; if something is breaking, you’re more likely to see it here first as opposed to anywhere else. Matt Drudge himself is a slimy little conservative, but this is the first site I hit every morning.

Nationalreview.com Launched by conservative icon William F. Buckley in 1959, this is a must-see for conservative views on just about everything.

Weeklystandard.com.Self-professed neoconservative magazine of record.

Big Dumb Idiot. Much easier reading the vitriol that sprews from fat-heads mouth than listening to it.

FROM THE LEFT

Dailybeast.com, on-line magazine owned by Newsweek

Dailykos.com Tows the Democratic party line, but some good reading

The Nation: Self-annointed flagship publication of the left.

Tnr.com. On-line presence of the New republic flagship of the liberal intelligentsia since 1914. Mostly politics, primarily foreign affairs.

Slate.com On-line magazine started by a former editor of the new republic, now owned by the Washington post

Salon.com, On-line magazine, more liberal  leaning than slate, , more culture and arts than politics

PROGRESSIVE

Truthdig.com : progressive with links to some of the best political journalists in America , like Eugene Robinson, E.J. Dionne, Chris hedges, Robert Scheer.

Mother Jones.  Downright Commie at times !

ALTERNATIVE 

The Utne Reader. Great compendium of more than 1,500 alternative publications around the country and world.

Good old-fashioned investigative journalism:

The Center for Investigative Reporting.

Libertarian Mumbo-Jumbo

http://reason.com/ Reason Magazine.

WONKY NON-PARTISAN POLITICAL STUFF  

National Journal: Inside-the-Beltway, political insider kind of stuff. But if you’re a political junkie, you’ll appreciate it.

From the (somewhat) lunatic fringe

Prisonplanet.com also infowars.com. If you’r econspiracy oriented, check out Alex Jones rantings. I think he’s border-line insane, but he’s a lightning rod for any and all conspiracies. Many view him as a right-wing nutjob. But his particular mode of reasoning is always of interest.

Countercurrents.org, long essays usually anti-establishment, a little more centered than prisonplanet, but lots of paranoid ranting.

Then of course, there are the mainstream print media: New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone.com.

For an international perspective:

bbc.com

http://www.aljazeera.com

Foreign Policy used to be a stodgy, academic journal that was a real snooze-fest. It’s now owned by the Washington Post Co., and, contrary to what critics of the lamestream media might opine, has revamped into a very readable on-line presence. Seems pretty balanced, as there’s even a blog run by conservative commentators, Shadow Goverment

And the Economist is just the shit. Probably leans a bit to the right on global economic issues, but great writing and reporting.

And just to check yourself:

Skeptic Magazine. Most of the information on this site can only be obtained via subscription, but there is some free content. It’s slogan, “Examining Extraordinary Claims and Promoting Science” says it all.

Snopes. Ever get one of those annoying e-mail messages about some virus infecting a Christmas Tree app on Facebook that will crash your computer, or chicken jerky treats are killing dogs, or heard about kidnappers abducting kids at amusement parks by dyeing their captive’s hair? This website, which I believe is run by a married couple with no evident political or social leanings, diligently researches these and all kinds of other urban legends.

This is not a perfect list in any way, but if there’s a topic of interest or concern to you, these sites can absolutely be used as sources to at least begin your inquiry. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but, taken together, they can absolutely give you more of a perspective than simply clicking on some link that you see on your FB timeline or in your e-mail.