Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mamet Misses

Two Unrelated Plays by David Mamet: Keep Your Pantheon and School
Written by David Mamet
Directed by Neil Pepe
Starring Jeffrey Addiss, Michael Cassidy, Steven Hawley, J.J. Johnston, Jordan Lage, Brian Murray, Rod McLachlan, John Pankow, Jonathan Rossetti, Jack Wallace, Todd Weeks

Performances September 9-November 1, 2009
Atlantic Theater
336 West 20th Street

Keep Your Pantheon and School are an inconsequential David Mamet coupling. And it’s not just because the entire evening clocks in at a mere 75 minutes, but because the short curtain-raiser School and the hour-long Keep Your Pantheon feel entirely half-baked, as if the playwright wanted to get something down on paper without a thought of either work ever finding its way to the stage. But here they are.

Actually, School is amusingly Mametian. Two school administrators are discussing posters the schoolchildren made as reminders of the positive aspects of recycling, and the men go round and round about the benefits of wasting paper to say that recycling is good, and the conversation takes off from there. They parse their words and subjects as only Mamet’s characters can, and this one-joke opener does its thing quickly and ends before wearing out its welcome. John Pankow and Rod McLachlan admirably keep Mamet’s dialogue aloft, getting laughs in the unlikeliest places.

Would that Keep Your Pantheon had been as short as School, then it wouldn’t seem so strained. For an hour, we are treated to the travails of an acting troupe in ancient Rome that, through a series of misadventures and miscalculations, is slated to be executed. Mamet attempts all sorts of jokes from borscht belt to homosexual, but it’s mostly silliness of the sort you would think would have been far below Mamet. (The title itself is a lame reference to the retort, “Keep Your Pants On!”)

Where is the bristling and nasty humor of Romance, Mamet’s last Atlantic production? Here we have to endure poor Brian Murray, looking embarrassed but still trying to wring laughs out of a lost cause that even the able director Neil Pepe cannot salvage.

Perhaps if both plays were 15 minutes each and led to a more substantial one-acter, then Three Unrelated Plays might have been something. As it stands, neither Pantheon nor School is worth visiting.
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