KPBS AIRDATE: July 17, 1996
Ernest Hemingway and David Mamet. I’ve always thought of them in the same vein. Men’s men. Very macho. Often misogynist. More swagger than sentiment. Ironically, both are represented right now on San Diego stages: Mamet’s “American Buffalo” is at the Globe and “In the Temple of Hemingway” is at Ensemble Arts Theatre. One is an early work by an internationally acclaimed playwright; the other is a first effort by a local writer, but they have more than a little in common.
Both 3-character plays concern loyalty, trust and relationship.
In Timothy Carpenter’s first playwriting attempt, Hemingway doesn’t actually make an appearance, but he’s a palpable presence. The piece takes place in the Ernest Hemingway Museum in Key West.
The alcoholic tour guide within knew Papa, and is as tortured as the novelist himself. His niece has returned home to attend her father’s funeral. Also on hand for the after-hours tour is an enigmatic, meditating, hippie/Zen mediator who helps unearth the family horrors that parallel the dark secrets of Hemingway’s own life.
It’s an excellent production, well cast an5d deftly directed by William Virchis. The playwright’s wife, Nancy Carpenter, designed the wonderfully evocative set and also capably plays the leading role of the tormented prodigal niece. Charlie Riendeau is terrific as the anguished Max, and M. Susan Niemann makes an annoying character as palatable as possible.
Timothy Carpenter has a feel for dialogue and drama. But he needs to trust his audience. He doesn’t have to bang every message into the ground or hit every point on the nose. His setup for the ending is predictable, but he shows real promise as a playwright. Keep an eager eye out for him.
Now, as playwrights go, David Mamet has proven himself many times over, especially when it comes to capturing men in their most private, most revealing, most gritty interactions. His 1975 “American Buffalo,” which won an Obie and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award, is a lower-class forerunner of his tough-talking 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winner, “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
If you can get past the rough language, you’ll be held hostage by this very potent play about a couple of angry, disaffected petty crooks planning a coin heist with (or without) the help of an adolescent junkie. As the job gets increasingly bungled, the actions become as violent as the words.
Playwright Stephen Metcalfe‘s direction really kicks in during the gripping second act. His cast, like Ralph Funicello’s cluttered and chaotic junk-shop set, is flawless. Jonathan McMurtry is a pot-bellied, no-nonsense Donny who spews hypocritical advice at Seth Green’s frighteningly credible, monosyllabic Bobby. With his snorting laugh and edgy paranoia, Dann Florek is outstanding as the explosive and treacherous “Teach.”
Be sure to look beneath the surface. Both the life of Papa Hemingway and the work of David Mamet are more complex and disturbing than they appear.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1996 Patté Productions Inc.