Regional revival of "American Buffalo" comes to Dorset
DORSET, Vt. — From a time just seven years ago when perhaps some thought that there would be no more professional theater in the Northshire of Vermont, today a small but resilient troupe is ready to wrap what is arguably its most successful season ever with a regional revival of one of the American modern classics.
Dorset Theatre Festival marks the final show of its 40th anniversary season with the opening of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet's "American Buffalo," directed by John Gould Rubin.
The play serves as a rock star bookend to DTF's opening show, "Downstairs" by Theresa Rebeck, which featured actors Tyne and Tim Daly, and set attendance records.
The DTF limited run of 11 shows of "American Buffalo" will take on a fresh look at a trio of misguided misfits who are a little out of luck and way out of their league as they plot the theft of a rare coin collection.
The show will also bring some of that earlier season glitter to rural Vermont. It will star Treat Williams as Teach and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis as Donny. Making his regional debut, Oliver Palmer will round out the cast as Bobby, Donny's junk shop delivery boy.
"American Buffalo" snaps with humor, frenzy, energy, tenderness and above all, timeliness, according to executive artistic director Dina Janis. She added that the show was one she has wanted to do since her first year at DTF, but had to wait this long for the right actors and director to align themselves.
"This play couldn't be more perfect for this moment [which Americans] find ourselves in," Janis said. "It takes a real look at the intersection between our capitalist impulse and our values. These characters are living on the margins, in a junk shop filled with remnants of past American grandeur and willing to do anything it takes to make a buck."
The characters, Janis continued, are confronted with the human cost of their actions, a betrayal sometimes of loyalty to friends and to community.
"This play sees that struggle played out in an iconic way between these three men in a junk shop in a great industrial American city," she said.
The all-star cast is another coup for DTF this season, as the Daly siblings were earlier in the summer. Williams lives in Vermont and had long, close ties to Mamet, so he emerged as a natural for the lead role.
Williams has worked on such Mamet projects as "The Water Engine" (film), "Speed The Plow" (Williamstown Theatre Festival), "Bobby Gould in Hell" (Lincoln Center) and "Oleanna" (off-Broadway). He also directed Mamet's short film "Texan," which won best film at three film festivals.
Guirgis' appearance is his return to acting after a long absence when he focused mostly on writing plays, culminating in his 2015 Pulitzer-winning "Between Riverside and Crazy," which is also his most recent work.
He is a member and former co-artistic director of LAByrinth Theater Company. Guirgis' plays have been produced on five continents and throughout the U.S.
His long working relationship with Janis, and her ties to Bennington College as a drama professor there, helped seal his casting.
"His company, LAByrinth, which he ran with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman for many years, was in residence at Bennington College for several summers," Janis said.
Physical advancements are also on tap for "American Buffalo." In the play, the junk shop is represented sparsely, so that the language and human dynamics can be the focus.
"We've re-arranged the configuration of our seating, bringing our comfy red velvet chairs onto the stage, so audiences will be witnessing the play from all sides, and be immersed in the drama," Janis said. "This is quite exciting to us, as we love to invite our audiences in to an experience which includes immersion in various design elements and allows them to engage in new ways, with each other, and with a play."
The set and theater revamp is the brainchild of Tony award-winning scenic designer Christopher Barreca. As a result of his work, Janis added that audience members will get to take in the action from multiple seating perspectives for a truly immersive theatrical experience.
In all, with season 40 almost in the books, the future is now for the tiny professional company.
"This season has proven to us what we have always believed was possible for Dorset, which is to become a nationally regarded, destination theater that brings to this region the top artists working in the theater today," Janis said. "Audiences from near and far have finally discovered what we are up to here, and the momentum is palpable."
— Reach award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias at firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Telly Halkias
If you go ...
What: Dorset Theatre Festival's "American Buffalo"
When: Through Sept. 2
Where: 104 Cheney Road, Dorset, Vt.
Information: 802-867-2223, dorsettheatrefestival.org
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