Pat Launer KPBS-FM
KPBS AIRDATE: MARCH 31, 1999
Boys will be boys. And nothing succeeds like success. Using those two platitudes as a springboard, let me assert that playwright David Mamet keeps writing testosterone-loaded plays, and directors like Duane Daniels use them to seduce endless audiences. When Daniels first mounted Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” it ran off-and-on for five years at the Fritz, and was the tiny theater’s biggest hit. Will lightning strike again? Looks like it. Daniels has now opened another theater space, with angel/patron Fritz Ahern, for whom the Fritz Theater was named. The Culy Theater bears the moniker of a trucker kind of businessman who occupied the building at the turn of the century. It’s a big old, high-ceilinged warehouse, situated at 7th and J, not exactly prime San Diego real estate – at the moment. But things will change soon, what with the new stadium and other developments. No matter. It seems that “Sexual Perversity” never goes out of style. The 60-seat Culy is packing ‘em in every weekend.
The last time I saw the piece at the Fritz, it was 1992, and I found it to be really dated and borderline offensive. This time, maybe I’m more jaded (or less), or the world has changed (or it hasn’t), but now it hits me as humorously obnoxious but spot-on. Those ultra-cool, slimy, woman-hating men haven’t gone away in the quarter century since the piece made Mamet’s off-Broadway debut. And neither have the bitchy, man-hating women. But females have never been the forte or focus of Mr. Mamet; he never quite captures them in any realistic way. He’s a man’s man. No one does machismo and misogyny better than Mamet.
Truth be told, the night I was at the Culy, the women – most of them quite young — were hysterical, laughing even more than the men, who were, perhaps, a little more uncomfortable to see that level of pseudo-brawny bravado for what it really is. The women know exactly what it is, and rather than squirm from it, they recognize it, disdain it, and snicker. Of course, that never seems to stop them from being sucked in by this kind of insufferable jerk. And that’s why the play still works.
There’s enough here for anyone who’s ever been in, near, or fascinated by the bar and single scene. Bernie is that smarmy kind of womanizer that, when seriously embellished, embroidered and exaggerated, turns into… Austin Powers.
Ruben Padilla nails him flawlessly, with his attitude and body language, not to mention his tight velour pants, wide-open shirt (and mouth), and the obligatory gold chain. Thomas P. Liles has less to work with in Dan, a gentler guy though also a Bernie-wannabe who falls in love with Deborah, a poorly defined character with which the adorably wide-eyed Yvonne Fisher does the best she can. The relationship is torn in two, with tug-of-war from both sides – by the easily-threatened Bernie and the feminist harridan Joan, a juicy if unvarying role occasionally played by Julie Jacobs. Looking beautiful, and beautifully ‘70s, Jacobs oozed anger and dripped sarcasm. Delicious portrayal, and a great counterpoint to Padilla’s Bernie. Daniels is so comfortable and confident directing this piece that it can’t fail. His rotating casts are all high caliber, and the pace is fast and furious. Nothing too deep here. It’s foul-mouthed fun — an easy, late-night hour of date-fare that holds up a distorting funhouse mirror to anyone who ever eyed or interacted with the opposite sex.
©1999 Patté Productions Inc.