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A CurtainUp Review
The Duck Variations and Sexual Perversity in Chicago
By Larry Switzky
Both plays are meditations on sexuality and self-deception in wildly different keys. The two old men of Duck. . ., also set in Chicago, are more thoughtful, more raw in ricocheting between power and need than their swinging '70s counterparts in Perversity. There are uncanny—and occasionally oddball—echoes between the two, like a running gag about the evolutionary value of sweat and the repeated collisions between narcissism and a broader political world. in this muscle retrospective Mamet shows that he could always write women, the elderly, comedy, philosophy, tragedy and satire in his distinctive shotgun patter.
There are some great bits. Emil is convinced that the zoo has a duck-like creature called something like a cantelope, but the more George tries to figure out the real name of the animal, the more defensive Emil becomes. But the real reason to watch this two-hander is the dynamic between Tommy Derrah and Will LeBow, both brilliant comic actors who elevate second-hand existentialism to sublime joy. The transitions between the short scenes —: at half-light, the glance from one actor to another — is an expansion of the minimalist dialogue that speaks volumes.
Four brave ART Institute students play Perversity. . . with vigor and bite. They have the comic timing and intelligence to follow Mamet's sudden reversals and ironic self-revelations, but mostly lack the presence needed to fill the cavernous space. Paul Stacey's direction diligently revisits the frenetic pace and multi-level staging of past productions, though his continual shifts in setting seem to work against both the theater and his actors' strengths.
The real stroke of genius here is casting the up-and-comer Tim Eliot against type as Bernie, the ueber-male in Mamet's cavalcade of jaded sexual warriors. With his bel canto voice and boy-next-door innocence, he's an unlikely, though wholly convincing, incarnation of neurosis a la Mamet.