Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: JANUARY 16, 2009
A piece of the American Dream contains the expectation of happiness, love, satisfaction and success. Operating in different social strata, and in very different ways, two current productions – a classic and a world premiere – rip into the fabric of the fantasy, revealing the dark thoughts and desolation underneath. The two authors are 20th century icons. In the short stories of Raymond Carver, blue-collar folks lead what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.” The characters in David Mamet’s plays are prone to rather noisy desperation.
His foul-mouthed men are rough and coarse. In one of his earliest efforts, 1977’s “American Buffalo,” the centerpiece is a trio of small-time crooks — and major league losers. Mild-mannered Donny owns a junk shop, chock full of detritus and discards, the hangout for dullard Bobby and explosive Teach. In their brash, clumsy way, with an eye on future wealth and happiness, they all want to steal a potentially valuable coin collection. Since this is MametLand , things won’t go at all well.
Compass Theatre has scored big with Mamet before, and under the muscular direction of Ruff Yeager, this one’s a winner, too – aggressive, suspenseful and riveting. The cast is terrific, and the physical action is potent and intense.
There’s a lot less activity in Carver’s minimalist stories; most of the energy roils beneath the surface. Often, there’s no dialogue at all. So the adaptation of these terse creations, by Federico Moramarco, local writer and former SDSU professor, is that much more impressive.
Two couples waft through three stories set in succeeding decades, from the 1970s to the 1990s — which is actually after Carver’s death. These are couples in crisis, individuals at an existential crossroads. They may be honeymooners or brand-new lovers, but already, we can see a warp in the weave of their relationship; just as they’re starting out together, they’re on the verge of separation, showing sure signs of alienation and disenchantment. The provocative title of the piece, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” is also the name of one of the stories. The interactions and permutations among the couples are interlaced with talk of mortality and death, infidelity and hurt, all accomplished while copious quantities of alcohol are consumed. One of the joys of these enigmatic stories is how much biting humor adapter Moramarco, and his fellow director Glyn Bedington , have brought to the Laterthanever production. These are delectable , if deeply disturbing stories, excellently enacted by a consummate cast.
These two shows don’t paint pretty pictures of American life. They often make us squirm, and also force us to consider the power of friendship, loyalty, love — and the lethal use of language.
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” runs through February 1 at the 10th Avenue Theatre downtown.
“American Buffalo ” continues through the February 11, at Compass Theatre, on the edge of Hillcrest.
©2009 PAT LAUNER