Two Unrelated Plays
Kirk Douglas Theatre
David Mamet is certainly one of today’s most ubiquitous working writers. Screenplays, screenplay polishes, plays, books. His recent biography is getting acclaim, and Mamet is delving into comics. Last Sunday in the space of one Culver City block one could see the opening of his latest stage offering Two Unrelated Plays or his latest film Redbelt. Both the plays and the film are admirable additions to Mamet’s canon.
At the opening, Mamet was joined by several of his fellow travelers: Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay and Mamet’s wife Rebecca Pidgeon (all have appeared in Mamet’s works over the years).
The two plays straddle Mamet’s career. “The Duck Variations” dates from 1971, and “Keep Your Pantheon” is less than five months old.
“The Duck Variations” is a two man play, based on their ruminations on a park bench. Far more compelling than a filmed equivalent in a restaurant (remember Malle’s “My Dinner With Andre”?), the two men meander around various topics in alternately distracted and poignant ways. Harold Gould plays Emil, and is a foil for Michael Lerner’s George. Gould (most memorable in The Sting) initially seems the dimmer of the two characters, but eventually his insights shine through. Lerner (most memorable in Barton Fink, especially when the Coen brothers allowed his military ribbons to uncharacteristically flop up and down in Lerner’s big monologue) draws the larger laughs. Both actors know the value of empty space, saying much with very little. The action, such as it is, takes place in one afternoon as the men look out over a lake. The stage lighting fades in and out, implying a longer discussion than we see. The men seem to know each other as they don’t bother with hellos, or perhaps they are newly-met strangers. The lack of context is an effective tactic, and amplifies the men’s comments.
“Keep Your Pantheon” is a Monty Python-esque spoof set in ancient Rome. Ed O’Neill is sterling as Strabo, a struggling actor late on his rent and unsuccessful in his advances on his young ward. O’Neill’s diction, timing and stage presence are tremendous. He was last seen onscreen in Mamet’s direction of Spartan. David Paymer plays Pelargon, Strabo’s sidekick and straightman. The plot revolves around Strabo’s effort to get his three man acting troupe another gig. Caught in some political intrigue, he ends up heading toward execution. The comedy is far broader than the prior play, and some of it seems forced. Vincent Gustaferro plays a wandering adman, introducing each new scene as a precursor to TV commercials in the centuries to come.
This pair of plays is a worthy addition to the prolific Mamet’s body of work.
Make it a double (or triple) feature in Culver City.
Kirk Douglas Theatre in Downtown Culver City, 9820 Washington Blvd @ Duquesne, Culver City, CA 90232. For more information, visit www.centertheatregroup.org/theatres/douglas/