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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Sexual Perversity in Chicago
by Lizzie Loveridge

Men are only after one thing . . . and it's never the same thing.
-- Joan
Lindsay Posner's production of Sexual Perversity in Chicago is brilliantly designed. This early play by David Mamet, whilst interesting, and full of sexually explicit language, fails to have the shocking impact that it would have done in 1976. So why are Londoners flocking to see Sexual Perversity in Chicago? It is doing great box office because of the presence on the London stage of Matthew Perry, Chandler Bing from the immensely popular television sit com NBC's Friends.

The eighty minute play follows the love affair of office manager Danny (Matthew Perry) and commercial illustrator Deborah (Kelly Reilly) from first encounter to closure. They might have made a success of their relationship were it not for their choice of confidants, Bernard (Hank Azaria) and Joan (Minnie Driver) who persistently sabotage and undermine.

The most interesting character and performance is that of Hank Azaria's Bernard with his Zapata moustache and centre parting. Bernard is a loudmouth, objectionable, misogynist, bull shitter who thinks women were created for his sexual gratification. His long pornographic descriptions of his sexual encounters, as much fantasy as reality, leave Matthew Perry's character astonished and open mouthed. Azaria's fast delivery rattles like a sub machine gun as he delves into bondage and sexual sadism. His performance is splendid. In a telling scene in a café, as Bernard's clumsy attempt at chat up is rejected by Minnie Driver's frumpy schoolteacher Joan, he turns on her and nastily accuses her of leading him on. She is so under-confident that she apologises to him. Driver has been dressed to look as unattractive as possible reminding us of the fashion excesses of the 1970s. She is wary of men, a dull, depressed, sad character who is not allowed to sparkle on stage. She tells Deborah that, "Men are only after one thing, " but then follows it up with the confusing … "and it's not the same thing."

Kelly Reilly finds some depth as Deborah, Danny's girlfriend and Joan's friend, as the relationship sours. In a sharply telling moment she says to Danny, "You're trying to understand women and I'm confusing you with information". Perry as Danny seems a really nice guy who in order to cope with, maybe, issues of intimacy rages at his girlfriend but he is most often the underplayer, the bystander, the foil to Bernard's outrageous dialogue.

In a final scene at a pool where Danny and Bernard are on the lookout for fresh talent, we realise how little progress Danny has made. He seems to have learnt nothing from his time living with Deborah. Girlfriends are replaceable in this throwaway society like any other commodity. If I have a criticism of Mamet's play, it is that the dialogue between the two women seems unusually superficial but the germ of fine writing is there.

Posner places his pairs of actors well, Danny doing the filing in the office as they talk, or in bars, cafés, the library, Joan at her school. With so many punchy scene changes, some of them to deliver just a couple of sentences, there is no time to get bored.

There are more than thirty slickly executed scene changes presaged by atmospheric old slides of Chicago and pop music from the 1970s, Bruce Springsteen and Barry White. Jeremy Herbert, the designer, has produced stunning mini sets, using sliding apertures, bright blues with neon lights and logos and skewed rectangles of orange spotlight. It is the most exciting combination of lighting and staging I have seen in the West End this year and lifts this play from the merely enjoyable.

LINK
Sexual Perversity in Chicago and the Duck Variations reviewed in NY Overview of Mamet's Work With More Links

Sexual Perversity in Chicago
Written by David Mamet
Directed by Lindsay Posner

Starring: Matthew Perry, Hank Azaria, Minnie Driver
With: Kelly Reilly
Designer: Jeremy Herbert
Lighting Designer: Nigel Edwards
Sound: Matt McKenzie
Music: Terry Davies
Running time: One hour and twenty minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7369 1731
Booking to 2nd August 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 19th May 2003 performance at the Comedy Theatre, Panton Street, London W1 (Tube Station: Piccadilly Circus)

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