Intimate, hyper-realism transform Unit 102’s American Buffalo into a unique theatrical experience in Toronto
American Buffalo is Unit 102 Actor’s Company’s final production before they become The Theatre Machine and it’s a relief that this valiant effort isn’t the last we’ll see from the members of this company or in this space. Their production of American Buffalo will always remind us of their great ability to stage fascinating, complex theatre in an intimate setting.
When I first volunteered to cover this play, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it. The plot, which centres around two men and a boy in a junk shop planning and attempting a robbery, didn’t exactly interest me, but I was curious to see a play by David Mamet staged in the space at the Unit 102 Theatre. I’m lucky I trusted that instinct because seeing tonight’s performance of American Buffalo was a uniquely excellent experience.
The show’s two leads David Lafontaine (who played junk shop owner Don Dubrio) and Brandon Thomas (Teach) both give unforgettable performances that would have impressed me even if the show had been staged in a theatre with 500 or 1000 seats, but the intimacy of this performance at the Unit 102 Theatre allowed me to really appreciate just how far they were stretching their abilities.
I should explain what I mean by the intimacy of the performance. Not only was the seat that I sat in part of Don’s Junk Shop set, but I also had the privilege of having the play performed for an audience of just my companion and myself.
This experience (which would be approximately the same even if the show sold out all of its 60 seats) is among the greatest theatrical experiences of my life. I got to see the tears streaming down Thomas’ face as his Teach is finally pushed past the point of total exasperation at the play’s end. I got to see the range of Lafontaine’s paternal feelings towards Bobby (played by Aldrin Bundoc). And I got to see these things played as immediately to me as if I had watched a movie acted by these incredibly talented players.
In a sense it was even more intimate than a movie, since Adam Belanger’s highly detailed and realistic realistic set was almost like a real shop I could enter. In fact, I had to walk through it to get to my seat. Even before the play started I realized what a unique experience seeing this show was going to be; I was impressed by the hyper-realism of the set.
All of this contributes to the mastery of Luis Fernandes’ direction of the show. He’s decided to play up American Buffalo’s straightforward, seemingly simple depiction of everyday human interaction by presenting it as realistically and as natural as possible. Both my companion and I felt that this approach worked wonderfully, since it drew us in to characters and situations we may have initially found reprehensible. We both agreed that this play might not have worked as well or been as interesting to us in another context.
I have minor quibbles with the way that the characters in the play identify women and with the implicit and explicit racial politics, but I think these things ultimately serve to make the play richer and more interesting. Beyond that, the tension between the characters in the second act made me put any problems I may have had with their characters aside as I was so engrossed with what was happening to them (both physically and emotionally) to care about anything else.
Without a doubt I would urge everyone who reads this to go see this production over the course of its all too short run. It is an experience unlike anything I have seen up until now and it is an experience I think is unlikely I will ever have again.
I must give a sincere thank you to the entire cast and crew of American Buffalo that made this experience possible. You’ve forever changed the course of my theatre-viewing life.
- American Buffalo is playing at the Unit 102 Theatre (376 Dufferin Street) until October 4.
- Shows run Tuesday-Saturday at 8 PM sharp. No latecomers will be admitted.
- Tickets are $20 if reserved online in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org or $25 at the door, with a PWYC on Wednesday September 24 and Tuesday September 30.
Photo of Brandon Thomas, David Lafontaine, and Aldrin Bundoc provided by the Unit 102 Actor’s Company