Sexual Perversity in Chicago
New English-language theatre group Minor Miracles takes on David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago in a revitalised venue in Amsterdam. Expatica's Jay Lebo went along just to watch.
Mamet, who was born in Chicago, is the man behind many of the last 20 years' most underrated stage and screenplays, including Glengarry Glen Ross, House of Games, The Untouchables, Wag the Dog, American Buffalo and The Spanish Prisoner.
His distinctive style minimises props and blocking, putting most of the emphasis on the painstakingly constructed dialogue. His characters speak with a repetitive rhythm and energy that is, depending on your point of view, either riveting and whimsical or head splittingly irritating. Love it or hate it, it's this distinctive style that sets Mamet apart as a truly gifted observer and illustrator of human nature.
The play, written in 1970, opens in typical Mamet style with the two male leads bantering about their recent sexual exploits. Bernie is crude, misogynistic and overbearing while Dan seems much more sensitive and down to earth, if no less stereotypically male. The two female leads are their mirror image, with Deborah the (seemingly) perfect match for Dan and Joan the perfect nemesis for Bernie. Before long, we are flung into Mamet's surreal world where everybody hates everyone else and nobody knows what they want or how to get it.
The distinctive dialogue is unquestionably Mamet's trademark. Fast and furious, it teases the audience with repetition and verbal mannerisms that are as close as theatre can come to a professional tennis match, each player quickly returning the serve before taking position for the next volley.
Deborah: "Ask me if I like the taste of come."
Deborah: "Ask me if I like the taste of come!"
Dan: "Do you like the taste of come?"
Deborah: "Do I like the taste of come!? I love the taste of come!"
Rapid-fire exchanges, like the one above that achieve nothing except to drive home the idea that these are real people, are just what anti-Mametites complain about, but they're missing the point. The unstoppable runaway train that is the dialogue is the product of extraordinary craft and constitutes most of the entertainment value in itself. Indeed, there are few props, fewer costumes and no plot to complete the package.
And that's where it all goes a bit pear-shaped. Without much of a plot to follow or props to enhance the suspension of disbelief, the onus really is on the actors to make the play come alive in the dialogue, and they don't quite manage it.
The 1992 screen adaptation of Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross is a prime example of actors capturing and holding the audience's attention with the sheer depth of the characters while the film remains mostly devoid of props or motion. The actors in Sexual Perversity in Chicago deliver their lines with aplomb and care, but they fall short of the fiery intensity Mamet's script demands.
Mamet newbies would do well to expose themselves to this competently acted and produced drama, but the initiated will find it a bit bland compared to the raw emotion we are used to seeing in Mamet's characters. Love it or loathe it, the deft writing deserves praise and the subject matter will keep you and your companions tittering long after the final curtain falls, but ultimately this production of Sexual Perversity just seems a bit... well... flaccid.
Mamet's 'Sexual Perversity In Chicago'
When: 22, 23, 24, 29, 30, 31 May 2003
Where: Bitterzoet Theater (formerly the Pompoen)
Spuistraat 2, Amsterdam
Box office: 020 521 3001
Price: Euro 10, concessions Euro 8.50
Subject: What's on