The Duck Variations (1971)
Keep Your Pantheon (2008)
Two Unrelated Plays
Written by David Mamet
Direction by Neil Pepe
Kirk Douglas Theatre
May 11 – June 8, 2008
Photos by Craig Schwartz
What is your gut reaction to David Mamet? Love his fast paced, testosterone charged dialogue no matter what the material? Or, thought Glengarry Glen Ross was fantasticbut find some of his other material more focused on style than content? And, perhaps, enough of the guy talk already. No matter where you are on the Mamet appreciation scale, you will find something to back up your feelings in Neil Pepe’s tightly directed production at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Pepe kids you not when he entitles the evening, Two Unrelated Plays.
Twenty four year old David Mamet wrote The Duck Variations with precocious insight. Two old men meet on a park bench, as they obviously have many times before, and play 45 minutes of Jewish verbal ping pong. Round after round of variations on a theme inspired by the passing ducks and separated by passing clouds. With half remembered bits of information and misinformation they try to best one another. They expound on the ducks themselves while obliquely pontificating on life, the meaning of life, and aging, and barely touching the issue of their own death which obviously looms in their minds. More Becket-like than Mamet’s later works, The Duck Variations, brings a bitter-sweet portrayal of a certain kind of male aging. It is the wearying dialogue of contentiousness as sport and as a way of avoiding personal insight. Duck is laughable, touching, fast paced and a bit repetitive, yet provocative and entertaining all the same. Harold Gould and Michael Lerner are perfectly cast as the two cantankerous old men. Never directly acknowledging their need for each other, one has the feeling these actors could have played their parts in their sleep.
Duck Variations was the observant, mature work of the unknown, young David Mamet. However, Keep Your Pantheon, the presumably more mature David Mamet’s most recent theater piece, is as sophomoric as its title. The silliness goes like this: It is ancient Rome. A small band of middle aged failed actors is months behind in the rent. They keep fast talking their now impatient landlord into giving them extension after extension. They have taken on a student, Philius (Michael Cassidy), whose main talent seems to be his barely post-pubescent body which the leader, and supposedly brains of the operation, Strabo (Ed O’Neil) cannot wait to bed – despite said Philius’ own revulsion to the older man. They get a break in that another theatrical company, that had a gig to play for the richest man in Rome, has had an accident. The Strabo group is asked to entertain in their stead. A funny thing happens on their way to the forum, or the Pantheon, or whatever, they go to the wrong rich man’s house for the performance and end up in a dungeon about to lose their lives. Throughout it all, Strabo’s drooling over Philius does not abate. Lots of fast talking, many funny lines, but basically Keep Your Pantheon is one 45 minute joke.
There is no faulting Mamet’s icy wit, Pepe’s letter perfect direction, or the cast’s polished performances. It all boils down to this: How much rapid fire macho stuff do you want to listen to?