Sexual Perversity in Chicago

Accidental Productions. Bakehouse Theatre - 21 Oct

American David Mamet hit the big time with a trifecta of off-Broadway plays:  Duck Variations, American Buffalo, and this one, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, in 1976 during the twenty-ninth year of his not-yet-completed life.  You may not have known that he also wrote the screenplay for the 1981 movie version of The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Accidental has produced a real funny one hour-long nugget gem of a show.  The play works superbly on two levels.  It’s always fun to laugh at ourselves or others stuck in a time capsule, especially the ‘70s – the height of bad fashion last century.  We get a good look-in at the sexual practice, prowess and mistakes of four young adults in the Windy City.  You could cry at the lack of empathy, the sheer self-centredness of these characters – their incapacity to communicate beyond the shallowest level is appalling. It’s all here – homophobia, sexual dysfunction, bravado, white lies, the Playboy mag in the filing cabinet at work.  But it’s all so hysterically funny.  Director Jesse Butler and his actors worked very hard on their various New York accents and mastered the clipped staccato and constantly interrupted dialogue of Mamet.  Symbiotic gestures, grimaces, postures and body language add tremendously to the nuance and subtext.  They work the script hard and with Mamet’s insights and irony, I laughed and laughed at the lines, the double takes and the ridiculous 70’s nature of it.

Nic Krieg and Hjálmar Svenna might have played a younger and older brother respectively but the same hierarchy is clear in their friendship at work and at play.  Svenna got his Bernie picture perfect – swaggering, confident, smooth talker and pick-up artist, pop philosopher, and all the right moves.  Perfectly and ridiculously dressed for the decade at hand.  Krieg’s Danny seemed the more sensitive guy but we later see he has real problems.  He infused Danny with a charm and troubled mind that made him a fetching watch.

Renee Gentle played Deborah whose quick turnaround relationship with Danny was a bit of the thread through the numerous short vignettes of the play.  Gentle played it wonderfully natural, easy going and vexing, and Deb’s bedroom conversation was titillating.  Joan’s sexual perversity (played by Mandahla Rose) seemed to be not having any sex at all.  With a poor opinion of men, Joan was pretty bitter and Rose did bitterness well. 

You never learn why Danny and Deb’s relationship turns nasty but Danny’s violent encounter with an elevator that never comes is a pretty good clue.  The last scene of the boys vulgarly ogling the babes on the beach is the sort of action that could have preceded the opening scene in the play, thus completing the never-ending circle, or treadmill, of love’s labour’s lost and telling us that nothing has really changed.

Jesse Butler describes himself as a virgin director and I at first thought that he must have chosen this play to let off some sexual tension, only to read later in the program that Perversity is his directorial debut.  That’s a hell of a good start, Jesse!  Tammy Boden’s stage design eased the actors’ journey from one bit of scenery to the other – quick changes were required and delivered.

A big bravo for the most amusing hour I had in the theatre this year.

David Grybowski