Reviewed by Judy Richter
"Sexual Perversity in Chicago" thrust playwright David Mamet into the American theatrical spotlight almost 30 years ago when it opened off- Broadway in June 1976 after its Chicago premiere in 1973. Even though the one-act play (it runs 70 minutes) is set in the '70s, it would take only a few costume and hair updates to place it in the early 21st century. American Conservatory Theater proves this point with its current production.
Astutely staged by Peter Riegert, who played Danny in the original New York production, the play offers keen insights into the relationships between single men and women in their 20s. Although the men are obsessed with sex, they lack the verbal and emotional resources to communicate meaningfully and to develop relationships that deepen beyond the sexual. The women are somewhat more articulate.
Mamet's dialog is laced with four-letter words, especially for Bernie (Gareth Saxe), but it rings true for these characters. It also can be quite funny, but there's pain underneath.The play opens with two office worker pals, Bernie and Danny (David Jenkins), at a bar. Bernie, a nonstop talker, regales Danny with tales of his sexual encounters as Danny listens closely. Soon Danny meets Deborah (Marjan Neshat), an illustrator, and they seem to click. Before long, she has moved into his apartment, much to the dismay of her acerbic roommate, Joan (Elizabeth Kapplow), a kindergarten teacher. Just as Joan predicts, the relationship between Danny and Deborah sours, primarily because they can't talk through their inevitable differences. The final scene finds Bernie and Danny at the beach, ogling the women and commenting on their physical attributes but unable to do more than just talk and look.
Kent Dorsey's three-level set with areas for the bar, the office, Danny's apartment, Bernie's apartment and Deborah and Joan's apartment allows the action to flow seamlessly, aided by Alexander V. Nichols' lighting and Lindsay Jones' sound. Christine Dougherty's costumes are strictly '70s. Riegert moves the action briskly, perhaps too much at times, not allowing some pauses, but all four actors seem to have a firm sense of what kind of people their characters are and how they fit into the play.For people who are experiencing Mamet for the first time, this is a good introduction. Those who are familiar with his later works will enjoy seeing how he started and how he has consistently focused on characters who talk a lot but with little substance.