Once upon a time, David Mamet was the much-respected, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “American Buffalo,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and “Speed-the-Plow,” all muscular, male-dominated dramas that expose the dark side of free enterprise.
Today, Mamet is a clownish, potentially dangerous ideologue who, for instance, claimed in a recent television interview that “teachers are inclined, particularly men, because men are predators, to pedophilia.”
Notwithstanding, if you can still bring yourself to see one of Mamet’s plays, you are unlikely to do better than the excellent Broadway revival of “American Buffalo” starring Lawrence Fishburne, Sam Rockwell, and Darren Criss.
Set in a lowdown junk shop, Donny (Fishburne) schemes to steal a valuable coin with the help of his gofer Bobby (Criss) and hotheaded pal Teach (Rockwell), resulting in misunderstanding and violence.
With rhythmic dialogue, multifaceted performances, and intimate environmental staging, Neil Pepe’s expert production is like a cauldron of suspension and insecurity that eventually erupts into brutality.
For what it’s worth, there is also a full-scale replica of an American buffalo in the theater lobby.
Circle in the Square, 235 W. 50th St., americanbuffalonyc.com. Through July 10.
Harmony: Weak but sincere
After a quarter of a century of development and a handful of regional productions, Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman’s bio musical “Harmony” is finally receiving its New York premiere, in an Off-Broadway staging produced by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
“Harmony” celebrates the real-life story of the Comedian Harmonists, an all-male German musical group, made up of three Jews and three gentiles, that enjoyed international fame up until Hitler’s rise to power. It often feels like an attempt to combine the narratives of “Cabaret,” “The Sound of Music,” and “Jersey Boys.”
The show is handsomely staged by Warren Carlyle (choreographer of “The Music Man”) but extremely uneven, with generic pop ballads and comedy bits juxtaposed against historical exposition and downbeat drama. This tension is best exemplified by Chip Zien (“Into the Woods”), who narrates the show in a flashback format while also making comic cameos as figures such as Marlene Dietrich and Albert Einstein.
One wonders whether the musical has benefited from countless rounds of revisions over the years. Frankly, I wish I could have seen the original 1997 production in La Jolla, CA with Patrick Wilson, Danny Burstein, and the late Rebecca Luker.
In any event, let’s give credit to Manilow and Sussman for standing by their show in spite of numerous delays and setbacks – and for doing an original work rather than a jukebox musical built around their preexisting pop hits.
Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place, nytf.org, through May 8.