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American Buffalo is local playwright's best

Ah yes, "The Eagle" has landed. The bald eagle, grand symbol of the United States, was almost extinct in the lower 48 states late in the 20th century. Now its population is stable and it is no longer classified as endangered or threatened. Hopefully, "The Eagle" will thrive as well.

And what about the American buffalo, another splendid American symbol? The animal itself was also near extinction in the 19th century, but is now raised for meat and hides. Sculptor James Earle Fraser memorialized its mighty majesty on the Buffalo nickel, an American coin minted from 1913 to 1938.

One of those now-rare nickels is the centerpiece of part-time Vermont resident David Mamet's "American Buffalo," a play to be presented by the Green Candle Theatre Company on three successive March weekends.

When "American Buffalo" premiered in 1975, Mamet bet director Greg Mosher that the play would win the Pulitzer Prize. Mamet lost, but his drama did earn the New Year Drama Critics Circle Award two years later. A vindicated Mamet would capture the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for his "Glengarry Glen Ross."

Sadly, the pathetic, greed-induced state of the American economy is a perfect reason to revive "American Buffalo."

Mamet's play focuses on three petty thieves who plot to burglarize a valuable coin collection after the collector enrages one of them, a Chicago junk shop dealer, by purchasing a Buffalo nickel for what appears to be far less than its real value. For the hoods, the planned heist is "business."

"You know what is free enterprise?" asks one of the crooks. "The freedom of the individual to embark on any... course that he sees fit."

Shortly after the play first opened, Mamet said that it was about "how we excuse all sorts of great and small betrayals and ethical compromises called business. I felt angry about business when I wrote the play." Using terse dialogue and an abundance of four-letter-words (close your ears, Rusty DeWees), Mamet illustrates how "business" can force friendship, loyalty, and morality to the edge of extinction.

If you want to learn more about Mamet and "American Buffalo" before March, YouTube.com has a couple of excellent videos of Charlie Rose interviewing Mamet and a video of Rose talking with the cast (including Vermonter actor William H. Macy) and director of the play's revival in 2000.

The Green Candle Theatre will present "American Buffalo" on March 13-15, 20-22, and March 27-29, Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7p.m. Performances will take place at the Outer Space Caf , 208 Flynn Ave., Burlington.

Tickets call 802-863-5966.

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