Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Shawl by David Mamet

By Joe Straw

One very bright afternoon, my then-brother-in-law took me to a woman in the valley because she channeled Doctor Peoples, who was dead but still around, eager, willing and ready to give advice.  This woman was a “genius” according to him. We were invited into her living room, a room with chairs and very little furniture along with six very confused women.

My then-brother-in-law handed her some money and then he began shaking his head back and forth, like there was something wrong with his neck, absorbing all she/he had to offer, I guess.   

I found out Doctor Peoples lived in the 1800 or 1900’s.  And the strangest thing that Doctor Peoples said when answering questions was:  “God bless you indeed.” I don’t believe doctors spoke like that in the 1800 or 1900s.  I wasn’t buying it, at all. It wasn’t even good acting. For the love of God, give me some truth and minimal ambiance!

After about 147 “God bless you indeeds” and in-between questions answered, the phone began to ring, and ring, and ring, and ring, and this woman, still in a Doctor Peoples trance, looked back and forth toward the phone and suddenly said, “I wonder if I should get that? Oh no, they’re gone.”  - Narrator

The Shawl written by David Mamet presented by Rydemption Entertainment & Moth Theatre Company, directed by Ryan Surratt at The Moth is a wonderful rendition of Mamet’s 1985 play. 

And The Shawl is intriguing on a couple of different fronts.  Surratt reversed the gender roles.  This reversal is very effective and conveys the meaning of Mamet’s work without losing anything in translation. Miss A becomes Mr. A, John becomes Joan, and Charles becomes, well, Charlie.   And I also liked it that the play begins with an introduction to all of the characters in a moment of frozen time and space to give us a hint this is going to be something different.  

Mr. A (Ryan Surratt) comes to see a psychic Joan (Lili Bordan) about the death of her mother and the problems he is having with her estate. Joan, placidly staring, speaks about a rhythm of in their lives and a cleaning of the mind.

“…You’ve come to me for help.  You wish me to resolve your “problem.” First, though, you would like me to inform you what that problem is.” - Joan

In the backroom is Charlie (Liz Guest) listening in on all of the finer details of swindling money from people who believe this stuff.

Mr. A really wants to believe Joan can speak to her mother. But he is skeptical at first so there is a struggle of ideas and thoughts until little things start to click.  

“You said “a scar.” – Mr. A

“That is correct.  That is another time.  A fall. But now:  think back to … a time of physical danger.” – Joan

“A… I don’t …” – Mr. A.

“Yes? (pause) What? – Joan

“Where is this scar?” – Mr. A

“It is on your left knee.  What is it?” – Joan

“Oh… “ Mr. A

“Yes?” – Joan

“I don’t have a scar there.”  – Mr. A

“You are quite wrong.” – Joan

Mr. A is certain there’s no scar there but Joan asks him to look anyway. And, like a man, he lifts his left pant leg getting it no higher than his calf and then hurriedly unbuckles his belt and drops his pants below his knee and finds a scar.  

After Mr. A leaves, Charlie, walking around in her underwear and with a sinister smirk on her face, is eager to learn how Joan does it. And to celebrate, Joan pours scalding tea out so they can talk about her magic.  Joan downplays her work, a lot of common sense and a few choice words.  It’s really not magic, just experience and research.

But there it sits, the tea, another mystery for this couple who had nothing to eat or drink earlier in the morning. Where did the tea come from?

Joan explains that she smiled at the grocery boy and opened up an account at the store. And Charlie, a bit flustered wants the money, but doesn’t come right out and ask for it.   Charlie wants to know when there will be money.

Unfazed by this grilling, Joan is looking at the big picture, the big payoff, while small-minded Charlie is looking for immediate satisfaction and gives Joan an idea about getting the money away from Mr. A.  And Joan wants her relationship with Charlie to work out and lets her in on the secrets of her trade.  But, there is only one thing that is not explained.

The Moth, once again, supplies complete satisfaction with David Mamet’s The Shawl. Ryan Surratt’s direction is sublime and the cast shines throughout. It is a quiet night of theatre, a night of quiet passions and quiet desperations cumulating into an inflamed passionate night without the hysteria. It is a wonderful night of honest emotional work. 

Ryan Surratt is incredible as Mr. A.   There is a very deep level of concentration in his work that carries him through wonderful moments throughout the play, and with a single-minded purpose to get what he wants. As the character he is brought to this moment in time, suffering mentally, and wanting complete metaphysical satisfaction. Still he doesn’t come in with a completely open mind and so he test his counterpart to make sure she is what he hopes she is.  Still, hands clasped, he desperately clings for the sign that will make his life and jumps on it the moment he finds it.

Lili Bordan plays Joan and is magnificent as well. Last seen in The Blue Room as the French maid, I thought that performance was more suited for film.  Watching her in this production, her voice is a lot stronger, and her character had many layers. There was thoughtful immobility to her action, a stare, letting the action come to her, not forcing the moments and finding a way to overcome the raging conflicts all around her. Still she speaks, all with a silent deferential, a way of thinking, of bringing out a truth until she finds a truth for resolution. She has a humanitarian passion and will let nothing or anyone get in her deceptive ways. A strand of hair hangs in front of her face, creating the only physical obstacle of her entire being this night.  She is quick to use her wit to find a way to get what she wants.  Bordan is marvelous.

Liz Guest plays Charlie and does some very fine work. She is statuesque and menacing with her physical presence.  And to top that off, she brings with her a lower class New York accent.  (Not sure why it was New York, but there you go.) There were a lot of physical things she did which could have been played differently, especially with her male counterpart (The footsies, handsies, fingers along side of the arm, only served to aggravate Mr. A and not progress the scene.) She comes off as a hustler, ready to walk the streets in search for money for food and this costs her dearly.   These are nice physical actions, but not sure if it forces her counterpart to do what she wants. Still, Guest provides many provocative moments.   

The Shawl by David Mamet is a wonderful one act with three characters that are extremely selfish wanting what they want when they want it. Mr. A is constantly testing Joan and his methods are deceptive.  Joan is willing to help but only looking for the big payday.  Still she needs help getting it. Big paydays require support and she will take that support any way she can get it. Charlie, on the other hand, wants immediate satisfaction and she wants to learn the tricks of the trade.  Who knows, she might want to stop turning tricks and get into a real profession.  Mamet gives strong voices to all of the characters.  The other characters have names except Mr. (Miss.) A.  Maybe the psychic knows the name and should not have to ask.

Justin Huen is the Lighting Designer, which was minimal and very effective.  And Lucinda KWH Jan is the stage manager.   

Run and take a psychic who knows her craft.  It could make for a very interesting evening.

Through May 31, 2013

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