KPBS AIRDATE: March 02, 2007
Venality and obscenity. Two modern American classics go for the jugular with gleeful bloodlust. They may be foul-mouthed, rife with cruelty and coarseness, but these Pulitzer Prize winners are breathtaking as they bare the ugly underbelly of industry and matrimony, impishly undermining the American Dream.
Take George and Martha, one of the most ferocious couples ever to appear onstage or screen. In Edward Albee’s 1962 masterwork, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” we meet the middle-aged marrieds through a post-party alcoholic haze. It’s immediately evident that they’re intelligent, inebriated, brutal… and brutally funny. We watch, like voyeurs, as they force their unsuspecting young guests into a boozy, late-night chaser of Fun and Games… ruthless diversions like ‘Get the Guest’ and ‘Hump the Hostess.’ Over the course of one evening, we witness the dissolution of two relationships mired in fantasy and deception. As the male academics duke it out, the historian vs. the biologist, they embody the clash between past and future, hindsight and technology. The muscular, lyrical language underscores a volcanic evening of theater. Now, one of the play’s most acclaimed productions has come to Los Angeles, after rapturous reviews in New York and London. Full-bodied, lusty, whiskey-voiced Kathleen Turner tears into Martha with devilish fervor. As her slump-shouldered, henpecked husband, Bill Irwin gradually reveals that he’s undeniably, diabolically ready for violent verbal warfare. Under the incisive direction of Anthony Page, these are commanding performances, in one of the most important plays of the last half-century.
Closer to home, and even more merciless, is David Mamet’s brutish, scatological “Glengarry Glen Ross.” No expletive is deleted; one bean-counter even tallied up 138 uses of the F-word in the 100-minute 1992 film. The rabid dogs spewing the profanities are ruthless real estate agents who will engage in any unethical act to ‘close the deal,’ in a cutthroat office sales competition. These predators, desperate to make a kill, will readily prey on each other under pressure. The tiny 6th @Penn Theatre provides the perfect hothouse environment for this claustrophobic jungle of savagery, dark comedy, pathos and twisted poetic justice. With direction by Jerry Pilato and dramaturgy by Bryan Bevell, the crack ensemble masters Mamet’s staccato cacophony of overlapping, rat-a-tat half-sentences. Jonathan Sachs is a knockout as the cold-blooded, high-performing hotshot, Ricky Roma. Jonathan Dunn-Rankin brings gut-wrenching poignance to Shelly “the Machine” Levine, the former top-dog fading to underdog; and Dale Morris is cheerfully malicious as a cold-blooded double-dealer. Mamet’s drama, too, provides fierce commentary, decrying a bankrupt culture that can produce, nurture and reward this brand of barbarity.
So, can you take the tough talk? If you can brave these (bleep) plays, you’re sure to have one helluva… um, heckuva time.
©2007 Patté Productions Inc.