The Alchemist Theatre returns to classic David Mamet this month as it presents Sexual Perversity in Chicago. Making her directorial debut, the Alchemist’s Erica Case assembles a really tight, little production of the comedy set in Chicago in the mid-1970s.
The story involves two men and two women living in Chicago. Their lives are seen in brief glimpses that punch their way across the stage for just over one hour without intermission.
Brittany Boeche plays the single most articulate character in the cast--a kindergarten teacher named Joan. There are one or two moments in the play where she expresses some really deep philosophical ideas. They’re mixed-in with quite a lot of intellectual pride that bristle against some of the other characters. Boeche finds a whimsical center to the character that keeps her from coming across as being too aloof. Joan can come across as more than a bit smug and superior, but Boeche finds a way to make it seem appealing anyway. Joan might not be the nicest person, but Boeche has a swimmingly graceful charisma that finds a slightly wild smile that emotionally warms the character’s chillier moments.
Becky Cofta is given the challenge of playing the least verbal character in the story. She’s an aspiring artist named Deborah. We get the feeling that she’s probably much more expressive in her art than she is with words. Far from being completely silent, she’s got her fair share of dialogue, but Cofta’s best moments with the character lie in rendering the character’s physicality. Without a hint of exaggeration we see Deborah fall in and out of love. Very little of her dialogue speaks to exactly what she’s feeling, which allows Cofta a lot of room to render the character free from the often frustrating constraints of Mamet’s dialogue.
David Sapiro is suitably unseemly as a vintage mid-’70s disco douchebag named Bernie Litko. To me, Bernie’s dialogue seems to call for more of a neanderthal/Cro-Magnon-looking blue collar alpha lounge lizard-type. Sapiro’s thin, wiry form brings a distinctly weaselly element to the character that serves the production well. Sapiro has no problem delivering Bernie’s misogyny to the stage in cleverly oblivious comic form, but Sapiro’s real accomplishment here is the faraway look in Bernie’s eyes on those rare moments where he’s wrestling with demons the go beyond the weight of the lies he lives with. There’s a deep inner torture somewhere at the bottom of the character that feeds his seemingly oblivious apathy. Sapiro brings that inner darkness out in some really compelling moments of subtly distant silence.
Chris Goode has quite a journey to complete in the brief, percussive, staccato of Mamet’s plot. He plays Danny--an ostensibly nicely sweet guy who gradually oozes into a nice guy/misogynist fusion who is rapidly losing his will to figure it all out. Goode is great as a genuinely nice guy. He’s a natural with that sort of thing. Those moments when he starts to assert more of a slimy misogyny don’t aways feel perfectly grounded in his portrayal of the rest of the character. There are a few moments that give a dramatic grounding to Danny’s emerging misogyny. Of particular note here is a scene between himself and the two women at their apartment in which we begin to see the dawn of his journey into sliminess.
The Inanimate Characters
There are only four human characters onstage, but the show has plenty of personality coming from various elements of production.
The presentation of the story becomes a character in and of itself. Mamet’s script has four characters drifting through interactions in and amidst each other in a series of very, very brief staccato scenes. Often the ending of a scene serves as its own punchline. Scenic and Lighting designer Aaron Kopec and stage manager Sydonia Lucchesi are remarkably tight with the timing of the scenes. Lights have to fall at just the right time and scenic elements have to be juggled with the just the right kind of efficiency otherwise the show feels like it’s 40-50% set changes.
Case, Kopec and Lucchesi do a great job of keeping everything brisk and fluid on one of the smallest stages in town. There’s some pretty clever use of space here. One single scenic chimerical piece of scenery plays multiple roles as a table, a bar, a dresser and a card catalogue in a library.
A metal filing cabinet has it a bit easier than the multi-purpose chimera...it’s very distinctive mid-1970s look that adds to the personality of the production. It’s rolled out to the center of the stage for a series of scenes between Bernie and Danny at work. It’s the big, silent coworker hanging out with the two guys as they discuss decidedly non-work related stuff in an office somewhere in Chicago in the middle of a decade that's already rapidly rushing off to meet the 1980s..
Alchemist Theatre’s production of Sexual Perversity in Chicago runs through April 14 on 2569 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. For more information, visit Alchemist Theatre online.