Logan Tavern Redux and David Mamet’s American Buffalo (5 cents)

Logan Tavern, on P Street NW, has the advantage of being a short walk both from the Studio Theatre on 14th Street, and Theater J on 16th Street, two theaters where we have season tickets. For several years, we ate there on a regular basis, and I always found the meal satisfying, if not exceptional. Then something happened, and Logan Tavern appeared to go downhill, to the point where we stopped considering it for pre-theater meals.

We did go there today, however, for a number of logistical reasons, meeting friends before seeing David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” at the Studio. What a surprise. The menu is somewhat different (and, I am afraid, a little pricier), and the quality of the food much, much improved. Around the table, we had tilapia (over spinach with a tomato coulis, wahoo, salmon (in a salad with chopped greens and feta), and a skirt steak (served with broccoli), with a calamari appetizer flash fried in a ginger sauce. Everyone was pleased.

“American Buffalo” was something different. A well known, and well respected, 35 year old David Mamet play, “American Buffalo” was well reviewed in the Washington Post and starred, as Donnie, one of the three characters, Washington actor Edward Gero, always a favorite of mine. But this play (text and performances) just didn’t seem to have it for me. We knew a number of people in the audience and, with the exception of one friend who thought it terrific, I think that my opinion was shared by most.

Mamet’s patter is always entertaining, although I believe that “Buffalo” does not show him at his most clever, and the acting, although spirited, didn’t seem to be all that it could have been. I thought Gero’s character showed inconsistency (Gero’s role is to look disgusted and occasionally erupt from frustration), and had a hard time listening to the high and raspy voice of Peter Allas, particularly in such a wordy role (Allas’ talk is to talk frenetically and incessantly, and to spout utter nonsense). The plot is a bit strained – Gero is a down and out store keeper (junk, antiques, odds and ends?), who sells a buffalo nickel to a collector. He didn’t even know that such a coin had value, and with his friend Allas, and a young sometime employee and slacker, decides to break into the collector’s house and steal his collection. Nothing of course goes right, as none of the three characters in the play has the smarts or the life skills to pull off even a small time crime. All they can do is brag and lie and cuss and raise their voices to each other. This seems to be OK, because this is “business”, and this is how “business works”. “American Buffalo”, like so much of Mamet, takes aim at American society through a critical analysis and attack on one view of American business practices. Doesn’t this get a bit old?

The play is selling out each night apparently, and its run has been extended. If I were you, I’d look for something else to do the night you were planning on going.

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