Wednesday, March 28, 2012

American Buffalo: An Introduction

I've mentioned in previous blog posts that I am in the midst of the design process for a production of American Buffalo. Elm Shakespeare, the company I work for, also produces a small show in the spring in addition to our usual summer fare. This spring's production is American Buffalo. I was asked to design the costumes, and I asked if it would also be possible for me to design the set as well. The Directors agreed and here I am, attempting to dredge up drawing and computer skills I haven't used in years.


American Buffalo is by David Mamet. The play takes place in a resale shop, and who knows a resale shop better than me? The shop is owned by the character Donny and is a hangout of sorts for the other two characters Bobby and Teach, as well as the rest of their nefarious group.. On this particular day this dysfunctional family of sorts is plotting to steal back a Buffalo Nickel that was purchased from the shop by a buyer a day or two before. In true ReSeller fashion, Donny feels like it was worth more than he sold it for. Since these guys don't have much in the way of scruples, they decide that stealing back the nickle to flip it for more cash is perfectly reasonable.


I see the play as a window in to the never ending cycle of these characters lives. There is constantly a scheme, there is constantly a jostle for position within the group, someone always loses their shit, something always gets broken, someone always gets hit, they all drive to the hospital together and someone gets stitches. All is forgiven. Lather, rinse, repeat.


The time is set in 1975, the place Chicago's North Side. I feel this time in American History is the beginning of the end of the 20th century American Dream due to the people's disillusionment with Vietnam, the fall of the auto industry, and the beginnings of pushing manufacturing overseas. According to James Truslow Adams the American Dream defined is "Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone with the opportunity for each according to ability or achievement."  But if there is no work and you don't have the capital to start your own business, how can you possibly acheive? I've always said the new American Dream is that people feel deserving of a big cash windfall for as little work as possible. Like winning the lottery, or suing for a cash settlement, or stealing a valuable object and selling it. These guys are desperately trying to live the new dream, because the old one has screwed them over.


The biggest challenge with this set design is that we are performing in an art gallery. So the set has to live in that space while still serving the production. Tricky. I can't exactly set up a full blown resale shop in the middle of a functioning art gallery. As far as the costumes go, there is always the challenge of finding men's vintage clothing.


Be sure to check back here mid-week for updates. I'll be posting lots of information about my process including all the junk shop and vintage clothing details up until opening.

Research images are from the UIC Flickr set of The C. William Brubaker Collection, which is an amazing resource of images of Chicago in the 1970's . Thanks UIC!

1 comment:

  1. Can't wait to see what you come up with for a set in the gallery. I'm sure it will be brilliant!

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