The Playgoer: A New "Buffalo"

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A New "Buffalo"

Riedel tells us today that the upcoming Broadway "American Buffalo" revival is taking a decidedly interracial approach to casting. Joining the already announced John Leguizamo as Teach is...Cedric the Entertainer!

Now don't laugh, but I'm actually excited to see this. Leguizamo is terrific, as anyone who's seen him on stage can attest. And as long as Cedric doesn't ad-lib his way through Mamet, he is also a formidable stage presence, I'm sure. Whether you call them comedians or solo-performance artists, both have long-developed stage chops as live performers. It's not like casting pristine movie stars who've never gone live without the protection of a close-up.

Plus, that consummate theatre man Robert Falls is directing. So I'm curious what he'll draw out of these performers.

Double plus--you can't ignore the huge marketing potential. If Cedric brings in half of what Diddy did in black audiences, and if Leguizamo reaches out to Latino markets...this could be quite a seller. Especially if these audiences actually enjoy the play, and why would they not! It's a completely appropriate vehicle for these charismatic performers' talents.

And finally, it could shake things up, in a good way, to so ethnically re-cast a modern canonical show like "Buffalo"--perhaps still haunted by Pacino's famous performance in the 70s. Good move to recapture the play's minority-ethnic sensibility (whether Mamet's Jewishness, or Pacino's Little Italy) rather than go the safe white way of Broadway. As the recent "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" seemed to do for audiences (if not for critics) giving the old warhorse a new and different American sensibility can breathe new life into the familiar.

As for Riedel's dismissal of the competing Speed the Plow also coming this season, I take issue with how harsh he is on poor Neil Pepe! (Who, I admit, is a friend.) Riedel criticizes the casting--because it pales against the star-vehicle Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum turned it into in London. But I for one welcome the bold decision to cast good actors like Raul Esparza, Elizabeth Moss, and, yes, Jeremy Piven. By dismissing him as just some TV actor from "Entourage", Riedel ignores that the man has theatre in his blood--as son of a legendary Chicago teacher and Off-Loop impressario.

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