Monday, October 26, 2009

Two Unrelated Plays By David Mamet


Now there’s a word you don’t get to use too often. But it aptly describes the dialog in “School,” the shorter of the two engaging and generally fun pieces being presented by the Atlantic Theater Company under the umbrella title “Two Unrelated Plays By David Mamet.”

For those not quite up on their Ancient Greek drama, stichomythia is a play-writing device associated with the likes of Sophocles. It is comprised of short lines of dialog spoken in quick bursts of back-and-forth conversation between two characters. “School,” which consists of nothing but stichomythia and lasts all of ten minutes, might be thought of as a fragment of a potentially longer play.

The plot of “School,” such as it is, is made up of a conversation between two male colleagues in what I take to be a private school. The gentlemen in question, identified as “A” and “B,” are sitting across a desk pondering the curious decision to have all of the children in the school create individual posters, using up vast amounts of paper, proclaiming their pledge to conserve paper. In the briefest of time, the conversation spins like a swirling top, leaping within its own kind of dizzying logic to take on such topics as the union representing the custodial staff, the need to keep an eye on the crossing guard/registered sex offender, and the disturbing attractiveness of some of the children. On paper, at least, one could see this leading to a dark place, à la “Doubt,” but it’s all gone in a flash, and it is the cleverness of the lines and the spot-on delivery by actors John Pankow and Rod McLachlan that remain in the memory.

Curtain down; curtain up. Part II of this pair is called “Keep Your Pantheon,” a silly romp that takes us from Ancient Greece to Ancient Rome and the comedy stylings of Plautus, whose work inspired “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Indeed, “Keep Your Pantheon” might just as well be titled “The Further Adventures of Pseudolus;” all that is missing is a chorus of “Comedy Tonight” to get things rolling.

Which isn’t to say that “Keep Your Pantheon” isn’t fun in its own right. It tells the tale of a motley crew of actors, living on a shoestring [sandal-string?] and trying to make ends meet. Through a serious of unfortunate misunderstandings, the actors run afoul of the law and are sentenced to die a most hideous death. I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say they make it out alive, and we have our happy ending, of course!

Fine comic performances, led by Brian Murray under the deft direction of Neil Pepe, who helmed last season’s topnotch revival of Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow, make this a most pleasant way to while away an hour.

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