Reprinted from the Independent Weekly

The Duck Variations; Sexual Perversity in Chicago

9 APR 2008  •  by Zack Smith

The Duck Variations and Sexual Perversity in Chicago
Ghost & Spice Theatre at Common Ground Theatre
Through April 19



The Duck Variations

Why have David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago and The Duck Variations been paired together so often? On the surface, the two one-act plays bear little resemblance, save for their use of blackouts as scene transitions. Nonetheless, Ghost & Spice’s production of the two plays at Common Ground Theatre helps illustrate the similarities that lurk beneath the surfaces of these two seemingly disparate works.

The Duck Variations, which opens this production, presents a series of “variations” on a conversation between George (Jordan Smith) and Emil (David Ring), as they observe ducks in the park. The piece contains almost no action and only the merest semblance of a plot, but veteran Triangle actors Smith and Ring have such a solid grasp of Mamet’s staccato dialogue that the energy stays high throughout their time on stage. Their relaxed body language and easy chemistry illuminate their characters’ inarticulate-but-profound observations, such as “Everything that lives must sweat,” which are comic and ultimately poignant.

Sexual Perversity is both darker and more elaborate, dealing with the bitterness of the singles scene. Set in the leisure-suit days of 1976, with period songs punctuating many of the scenes, it tells of two sets of friends, Bernie and Danny (Carl Martin and Jeffrey Scott Detwiler) and Deborah and Joan (Tracey Coppedge and Rachel Klem). Their lives collide when Danny and Deborah begin seeing each other, which prompts would-be womanizer Bernie and romantic burn-out Joan to each offer their own destructive support.

As Bernie, one of Mamet’s most gloriously misogynistic characters, Martin radiates a raw comic and malevolent presence. Clad in a too-tight business suit reminiscent of Chris Farley’s motivational speaker character from Saturday Night Live (and occasionally a Speedo), he gets to the heart of the combination of braggadocio and resentment at Bernie’s core. Klem, mostly clad in black-and-white outfits, has a particularly difficult character to work with, but gives a comic snap to her line readings, particularly in the scenes where Joan, a teacher, deals with her grade school class. As the couple, Coppedge and Detwiler are better when they’re breaking up than when they’re together, but do an excellent job of communicating how their friends influence their romantic interactions.

The production uses the absolute bare minimum of props to create Mamet’s worlds, but the effect gives the two plays a unique sense of synchronicity. You feel as though George and Emil might be older and slightly wiser versions of Danny and Bernie, still sitting around discussing things they barely understand. Perhaps that’s why the plays are paired together so often; it’s to give the audience a double dose of sweet and sour. —Zack Smith

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