American pervert

first_imgSexual Perversity in Chicago, 18 to 22 October, Burton Theatre: Mamet doesn’t do unusual. This is normality sped up, with young people loathing each other, needing each other, fucking each other. The only really perverse aspect of this show is its understated quality, a too rare demonstration that student drama can excite, not simply depress. This isn’t perfect stuff, but it is tight. It also contains great sunglasses. Bernie (Michael Lesslie) and Dannie (Nick Bishop) are ordinary guys who like to talk about girls and sex. Sometimes they meet girls, and occasionally they have sex. It is a study of territoriality on the smallest of patches. Dannie’s affair with Deborah (Charlotte Cox) lends him a quiet authority that soon undercuts the brashness of his buddy’s bragging. A surprising world of human empathy is briefly uncovered, along with the superficiality and hypersensitivity of macho bravado. There are times in this production when Mamet’s notoriously rhythmical dialogue sings. Lesslie, in particular, has an ear for Mamet-speak: he coaxes his lines, but coaxes at pace, and wrenches you open with the simplest of words. Upon introduction, Deborah asks Bernie what compliments Dannie has paid her. “All the usual things,” comes the reply. This is not a production afraid to extrapolate complexity. Lesslie exploits Bernie’s language, aggressively deploying jargon and trivia in everyday conversation to assert authority over his pal. Director Sarah Branthwaite has emphasised human frailty and jealousy: friendship is clung to at the expense of friend, and mutual understanding is rare. Bernie and Joan (Charlie Covell) undermine their friends’ relationship, an affair finally reduced to a barrage of anatomical expletives. Things could have been pushed further: perhaps they will, by second week. The Bernie/Dannie relationship seems occasionally oversimplified. The early scenes offer no answer as to why Dannie tolerates his friend’s bravado; hanging onto Bernie’s every word while the latter holds forth about his latest conquest. In fairness, that episode is possibly the greatest depiction of kinky sex and pyromania ever written, but nonetheless there does not seem to be much shared history, or at least much mutuality in their friendship. This is a shame, as the studied development of the relationship later in the play is one of this production’s highlights. Deborah’s presence, whether physical or actual, provokes anxiety and suspicion in both men as they renegotiate their friendship. Their spiritual reunion in the closing scene, babe-spotting at the beach, presents male bonding at its embarrassing finest. Mamet has been criticised as a writer of men only, and the play does sometimes feel like a two-hander with women added on. Nevertheless both Cox and Covell are strong and find substance in possibly tricky material. In bed, Deborah and Dannie discover an intimacy that makes the later disintegration of their relationship bathetic and awful. It also provides an informative contrast to Joan and Bernie’s mutual incomprehension during the latter’s slack, violent attempt at a pick-up. This is undoubtedly a play that places the pithy one-liner above narrative complexity, but this company has squeezed Mamet for almost everything he has got. Productions like this show what the BT is capable of: not just freshers taking part in a first and wobbly theatrical outing, but also plays that move and enthuse, and remind us of why we go to the theatre.ARCHIVE: 1st week MT 2005last_img read more