A junk shop: an assemblage of bric-a-brac, objects not all broken but beyond their first use—typewriters, two-headed ceramic aliens and toasters as well as other kitsch and fixer-uppers. Such a setting lays out the residue of human wishes, just as a theater shop accumulates the residue of its productions. It’s as the thick jumble of Don’s Resale Shop that Angel Island ends nearly three decades housing Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company. Their production of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” is their last before the unstoppable force of “urban renewal” trades a liquor shop lit like a roadside saloon fifty miles from Vegas and one of Chicago’s longest-standing storefront theaters for condominiums.
“American Buffalo” presents the desperation of lowlifes running hopeless operations—risk, lax morals and a loose attitude toward property. Donny Dubrow (Mary-Arrchie founder Richard Cotovsky) is the grizzled denizen presiding over an unwanted hoard. His fellow would-be crooks are the young addict Bobby (Rudy Galvan) and the over-pomaded, extravagantly bombastic Teach (Stephen Walker). The object of their desire is a five-cent piece of unspecified provenance, tragically undersold for ninety bucks when a customer of the moneyed class spots it in one of Don’s bins of detritus.
The brutality and barely contained incompetence of potentially inconsequential men seems inevitable in a world where your buddies cheat at cards and women called Ruthie and Gracie won’t spot you half a piece of toast at the diner. “You don’t have friends this life,” Donny tells Bobby before he’s cut out of the caper and kicked around for a nickel.
“I go out there every day,” says Teach. “There’s nothing out there.” Yet amid the mounted deer trophies and dubiously procured farm equipment, there is the little grace Donny dispenses in lines that turn platitudes into prayers: “Never skip breakfast, Bob,” and “You did real good.” The play belongs to him and to Cotovsky, fathers to the unvalued who become great in the act of forgiveness. Just as Mamet’s viciously precise use of language turns “cunt” and “fuck” into the wit of American diction, so does his play disguise the love between men as a variation of violence. (Irene Hsiao)
Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company at Angel Island, 735 West Sheridan, (773)871-0442, maryarrchie.com, $20-$30. Through March 6.