Theatre in Wales

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Blistering Revival Of Early Mamet

The Best of Touring Theatre

Sexual Perversity in Chicago - Living Pictures/ Cegin Productions , Aberystwyth Arts Centre Studio , February 23, 2013
The Best of Touring Theatre by Sexual Perversity in Chicago - Living Pictures/ Cegin Productions David Mamet’s last book, written from his rural home in Vermont, deplored health-care reform in the US, reduced the Middle East torment to eschatological struggle and declared global warming a myth. Happily, his artistic legacy has been long laid down. “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” is the young urban Mamet with his ear tuned to the high-speed rhythms of the singles jungle of Chicago’s Rush Street area. Director Robert Bowman delivers an enclosed, scabrous, scintillating revisit to the Chicago and Lake Michigan Shore of 1976.

It is a play of its time but which bounds into today. Mamet does not do brand names or identifier labels but he cannot help but catch the era. 1976 is a time when office work comprises files and paper- computers then were powerful and omnipresent but they lived behind sealed double doors in temperature-stabilised, dust-filtered environments. An invitation out to dinner may tentatively be made after bed, but cohabitation is still a relative novelty. But a woman can now see off a male by declaring she is gay. Pornography runs openly twenty-four hours in downtown cinemas; the US differs from the shadowy cellars in Soho of that era.

The two men in the play, Danny and Bernie, go to such a cinema. The last scene is set on the shore and is similarly voyeuristic. With their binoculars scrutinising the sunbathing women the men pivot between lustful ogling and misogynistic resentment. Robert Bowman’s Bernie is a monster of simmering rage. It would be comforting to think he is a piece of history, were it not that psychologists identify in 2013 this condition of permanently, barely-constrained rage as widespread.

Beneath the rat-a-tat ricochet of the dialogue there is much craft to Mamet’s play. It gradually reveals itself as the arc of a love affair. Ioannis Sholto’s Danny first appears as the gentler counterpart to Bernie, akin to the Miles and Jack relationship in the film “Sideways”. (In certain angles he might also be a younger brother of “the Sopranos” Artie, a rare decent character in the series.) The topic that brings his encounter with Lizzie Rogan’s Deborah is drawing. He attempts to bring a small measure of moral response to Bernie’s rampaging narratives. The customary retort he receives is “Are you shitting me?”

The fourth character is Clair Cage's Joan. Joan is the woman dismayed in love, who has taken refuge in a posture of generalised but false cleverness. “Men. They are all after the same thing. But it’s never the same thing.” The art in Mamet’s story-telling is that the ostensibly nicer couple are just as unprepared, or adept in the capacity, for love. They can share a flat but they cannot share the shampoo. When things sever, they embark on an escalation of ratcheting insult. Even sex is changed from an activity made together to one where the other person is rated in the manner of a consumer product. The “perversity” in the title is a word carefully selected.

There are some delicious moments of comedy in the language. The phrase “Messing around” is fine but Bernie is irate at the term “fooling around” with its mildest possibility for homosexuality. Jacob Hughes’ design wraps the audience within a enclosing chain-link fence. There is no let-out. The cast sit, change costume among the viewers; look across the small space of Aberystwyth’s studio and the audience too can become Bernie-like watchers.

Members of Aberystwyth’s Writing for Performance group are present in the audience. Living Pictures provides an opportunity to see how a master of theatre craft makes it work. It is a refreshing strand of theatre to have on tour. The opening scenes are indicator that without Mamet there would probably have been no Tarantino. A Dennis Kelly script arrives 30th April. This blistering “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” continues to all points Welsh: 27 February Pontardawe Arts Centre, 4 & 5 March Galeri Caernarfon, 6 March Y Stiwt, 7 March Y Ffwrnes Llanelli

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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