Sexual Perversity in Chicago
Sexual Perversity in Chicago by David Mamet
Shows: 7/9 – 7/25
Director: Michael Weber
Produced by The Alchemist Theatre
Features: Ken Dillon, Desire Gibson, Beth Lewinski, Kirk Thomsen
Runs: 90 minutes (with no intermission)
Before Neil Labute’s no-punches-pulled confrontation, before Kevin Smith’s raw character interaction, there was David Mamet.
Mamet is an icon of the theatre now, famous for his realistic yet jumpy cadence of dialogue. While writing continually for and about the theatre, Mamet has also written and directed several movies plus produced countless hours of television. But Mamet became Mamet back in 1970s Chicago with the plays like American Buffalo, The Duck Variations, and a play currently being performed in Bay View’s cozy Alchemist Theatre. Here is how it goes…
The audience settles in as classic funk is piped in during the pre-show. Lights dim and our attention is directed to the proscenium, where a video projection imagines that it’s Chicago in the year 1976. More music and anachronistic images of the city follows. A title card states: Interior. A singles bar. Dan and Bernard talk. Lights go up on center stage.
Danny: So how’d you do last night?
Bernie: Are you kidding me?
Bernie: Are you f—— kidding me?
Bernie: Are you pulling my leg?
Bernie: So tits out to here so.
Bernie: Twenty, a couple years old.
Danny: You gotta be fooling.
Danny: You devil.
Bernie: You think she hadn’t been around?
Thus begins Mamet’s honest, fun, and unflinching journey that is Sexual Perversity in Chicago. The dialogue is delivered rapid fire, like a world champion ping-pong match with extreme language that makes our ears blush. Conversations sparkle like sunlight through the trees because in a Mamet play–conversation is the star.
Many plays are driven by dialogue, but Sexual Perversity opens itself up like a window of voyeurism. All of the scenes could just as likely take place in the lounge attached to the Alchemist stage, or in the apartment next door or your own home. That’s a Mamet play; it’s ultra-naturalism that sounds like the audience is eavesdropping rather than watching a rehearsed performance piece.
Along with Dan and Bernard’s not-so-delicate traipsing exchanges about sex and women, Deb and Joan have their own different discussions about love, dating, and men. Dan and Deb meet early on and begin a romantic affair. The relationship eventually explodes and dissolves with unresolved detritus spewed about.
Alchemist’s production, directed by Michael Weber, has a few neat things going for it. Along with music from the era playing between scenes, touches include projected title cards of locations. For instance, instead of just hearing Burn Baby Burn we see: Interior. Office. Dan and Bernard are filing.
The title cards are probably not necessary but it supports the structure of the script. There are several scenes with Dan and Deb in bed. To avoid the awkward and tedious blocking a bed scene can require, there’s a “bed” placed against the back wall so the audience has a ceiling fan-like view of Dan and Deb’s interactions. The actors here make it look like they are lying in bed while actually just standing on stage. It’s a surreal but effective choice, allowing the director and actors and the audience to focus on the dialogue.
All the actors handle the material reasonably well and meld cohesively as an ensemble. Kirk Thomsen (Bernard) is the only one who relies on stock character attributes to communicate his part. Ken Dillon (Dan) is believable if a bit stilted at times as the more sensitive of the two males. Desire Gibson (Joan) slips into her role with such unforced ease I’d think the role was written for her if I didn’t know better. However, the true standout of the cast is Beth Lewinski (Deb). Lewinski’s simple and honest approach to her role is completely lacking in self-consciousness. She comes across as natural as falling leaves.
Weber directs the cast fluidly, like a disco song of the era it’s set in. Despite running for a full 90 minutes without a break, the show never lags. It goes down like a smooth but stiff drink, keeping Sexual Perversity in Chicago as timeless as romance itself.
See it with someone you love— or hate— or maybe recently jilted, as Mamet’s play appeals to a wide range of dynamics.
Sexual Perversity in Chicago continues at The Alchemist now through July 25. Tickets can be purchased at The Alchemist Theatre website or call 414.426.4169 . You can always find ticket information and more at Footlights online magazine.