The first time I saw David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” was at the Odyssey Theatre when it was located on Santa Monica Boulevard at Bundy Drive (the theatre’s been at its current Sepulveda Boulevard location since 1989), and I remember being both puzzled and troubled by it. (Mamet has certain effects on me; I nearly got into a physical altercation — with a man — in a parking lot after seeing the film “Glengarry Glen Ross.”)
Fast forward to 2013 and The Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, where “American Buffalo” has been revived and is being played far more for laughs than I would have expected. The rhythm of Mamet’s trademark staccato language has been rounded at the edges and turned into boisterous comedic banter.
Who’s conning who is a frequent theme in Mamet’s plays (think “Glengarry Glen Ross” again), as is the use of profane language, and this play is no exception. Playing against the hard-bitten type that the playwright specializes in, this trio of ne’er-do-wells seem like loud, ignorant schnooks, not the conniving and clever cons they imagine themselves to be.
Poker buddies Don (Bill Smitrovich) and Bobby (Freddy Rodriguez) conspire to steal a coin collection from a stranger, who purchased an American Buffalo nickel at Don’s junk store. Don now thinks it’s worth more than the stranger paid. Teach (Ron Eldard) doesn’t think Bobby’s got what it takes to do the job (he does seem pretty slow; can we believe his account of seeing the stranger carrying a case?), and persuades Don to recruit a different friend, Fletcher (an invisible character).
Friendships will be tested, bonds will be broken, trust will be shaken and re-established, and there will be laughs and loud noises along the way.
If you’ve ever wondered how a director’s choices influence a production, veteran director Randall Arney’s take on this one will be informative. It was for me; see for yourself at The Geffen Playhouse through May 12. For more information, visit geffenplayhouse.com or call (310) 208-5454.
Focus on The Palisades
Santa Monica Playhouse is currently hosting the world premiere of Pacific Palisades resident and playwright Lisa Phillips Visca’s newest play.
In “Raise Me Up,” Visca shares her parents’ love story. Longtime Palisades residents Louis and Daphne Padula, from traditional Italian and Greek families, fought against cultural and religious bias to pursue their love for one another, in an old-world versus new world (of the 1950s) struggle. They were tragically killed while crossing Temescal Canyon Road in 1984.
Actress Betty White has described the play as a “poetic, witty, true love story that sweeps you away with its passion.”
I’ll be there on Friday night. “Raise Me Up” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with a 3 p.m. Sunday matinee through May 19 at Santa Monica Playhouse. Call (310) 394-9779 for tickets and info or visit www.SantaMonicaPlayhouse.com.
The curtain’s already gone up at Theatre Palisades, now presenting “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a Tony Award-winning hit musical comedy. When the smartest kids in the county gather on stage for the regional competition at an annual spelling contest, who are the competitors, what are their challenges, and who will go on to the National Bee?
The contestants are a mixed bunch: A chunky, defensively antagonistic boy who uses his foot to spell; a young girl whose mother is literally an ocean away; a boy who consistently doubts his own intelligence and self-worth; a girl from a family of ethnic overachievers who wishes that she wasn’t expected to be perfect; the daughter of two fussy gay dads; and more
There’s also an interesting wrinkle. Following the model of the original Broadway production, several people will be pulled from the audience and asked to participate in the contest.
Reservations (310) 454-1970, or online at www.theatrepalisades.com. The theatre is located at 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades.
And Chamber Music Palisades makes an appearance at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as part of the museum’s ongoing Sundays Live music series.
Founded in 1997 by four Palisades residents, including two professional musicians, Chamber Music Palisades puts on concerts, commissions new works, and provides educational opportunities for young people by performing free concerts in local schools and in local venues for community families.
Guest artists are largely drawn from the ranks of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, music faculties of regional universities and colleges, and the Hollywood recording industry.
On Sunday, April 28, 6 p.m. at LACMA’s Bing Theatre, the chamber will perform Alexander Zemlinsky’s “Humoresque for woodwind quintet”; Malcolm Arnold’s “Divertimento for flute, oboe, and clarinet”; Karl Pilss’ “Serenade for woodwind quintet”; and Mozart’s “Quintet in E-flat major, K.452.”
The concert is free, no reservations required, or stream it live online here: more.lacma.org:8088/SundaysLive.
Theatre by the blind
Starting Friday at the Promenade Playhouse here in Santa Monica, you’ll have a chance to see the country’s only theatre troupe composed completely of blind actors.
Many of the actors had never been on stage before they came to be part of this company. Enlarging their horizons and giving them confidence in their abilities, being involved with this company opened up new worlds to these performers, whose talents are on full display in an original comedy production with live music called “Yesterday’s.”
Candy, the owner of a failing Hollywood jazz club, tries to keep her business afloat by enlisting help from a gaggle of offbeat employees, including aspiring lounge singer Michael Quinn. When the plan fails, Michael discovers an unlikely mentor in a blind street performer. Will Candy be able to save her beloved club? Or will “Yesterday’s” be here today and gone tomorrow?
It opens Friday and runs through May 5, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. Call (310) 902-8220 or www.creoutreach.org. The Promenade Playhouse is located at 1404 Third Street Promenade.
Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.