Squirrels by David Mamet The V.I.P by Cliff Robertson Working Her Way Down by Percy Granger At the American Premiere Stage
HERE IS something hideously abortive about the three one-act plays currently showing at the American Premiere Stage. Never has promise been so firmly repulsed, or talent so finally diverted from a stage. Bad things have emphatically hit the floorboards in threes, in this third and thankfully final program of APS's debut season.
Squirrels, the first affront of the evening, is a pedantic and ingrown mockery. David Mamet has trundled out the theme of a reversal between two artistes, the aged veteran and the anxious ingenue, and bandied "concepts" about the stage for the better part of an hour before switching the characters' roles in a sleight of hand so fast it would have dazzled Houdini. The reversal, developed with delicious deliberation in A life in the Theater, happening so awkwardly here, so long after we have lost all interest in the characters, serves only to leave an unpleasant taste of dissatisfaction and cheapness. Bill Young plays the established writer Arthur with a mince and grating voice I never thought to find north of Columbus avenue. Michael Sacks, as the young Edmond, swishes around in a role clearly a couple of sizes too large for him. It might be kindly suggested to him that he take advantage of the Christmas season to return it for one that fits his limited capacity more closely. Lynn Bowman, the cleaning woman who seems to wash in and out of the office with alarming regularity, struggles vainly with her chronically undeveloped character. As the three of them sit about Arthur's office, playing with "I think that you think so" lines, we are left to wonder whether Mamet wants to make us seriously believe that writers behave in this childishly parasitic way. On the other hand, perhaps this is an insight to the current pall over the entire profession, as best exemplified by the work itself.
The second offering, The V.I.P., is a bourgeois drawing-room play, centered on J.G. Baldwin (Cliff Robertson), an important business type, and his executive secretary, Kate Worthington (Julia Newton). As they sit in the V.I.P. lounge waiting for Baldwin's flight to be announced, he begins to ask her about her past. Kate tells him how she no longer wishes to see her mother, being scornful of such "insidious apathy" with which her parent seems afflicted. The mother seems to have returned to Tennessee, whence she came. "Ah, I used to have a weakness for Southern belles," declares our hero; the plot thickens. Well, it appears Kate's father abandoned them before her birth... After drawing out the quasi-suspense for all it's worth, Robertson ends his play non-commitally, leaving us to wonder, is she or isn't she his daughter? Who cares? Cliff Robertson has the infinite bad taste to star--if it can be called that--in his own play; one would think he might know the character well enough to lift the cardboard top from the neatly stereotypic executive. Exposing his concern for his son, sent to a military academy "to become a man"--why else?--amid his concern for the effectiveness for his payoffs, Robertson's Baldwin is, in character and enactment, as limited as only a Hollywood actor could imagine corporate America to be. Julie Newton, whose delivery of an endless stream of "Yes, sir's" would warm Patton's heart, has precisely the degree of emotionlessness one would require of a secretary. Unfortunately, one requires a bit more than that from an actress.
Exposing concern for his son, sent to a military academy "to become a man"--why else?--amid his concern for the effectiveness of his payoffs, Robertson's Baldwin is, in character and enactment, as limited as only a Hollywood actor could imagine corporate America to be. Julie Newton, whose delivery of an endless stream of "Yes, sir's" would warm Patton's heart, has precisely the degree of emotionlessness one would require of a secretary. Unfortunately, one requires a bit more than that from an actress.
WORKING HER WAY DOWN,a comedy of the Old West, begins most promisingly. Its failure to live up to our expectations, after the void of the first two plays, makes this third one possibly the most disappointing. Set in a whorehouse in Nebraska, 1896, the story revolves around Allison (Linda Cameron), a seventeen-year-old making her debut in Mrs. Push's (Frances Shrand) establishment. Her third floor "Celestial Chamber" invaded by an aging bandito (Bart McCarthy), she first tries to bed him, believing him to be her first customer. When he finally convinces her that he is on the run, she hides him during an impromptu visit from her 'fiance' Harvey Handcock (Jack Marshall), the town sheriff. When Harvey is replaced by a randy reporter, Arithmetic Johnson (Michael Wilkes), what ensues is a bawdy comedy in the best saloon style. The acting is slick, the delivery as rapid and well-placed as a six-shot showdown. Both Linda Cameron and Bart McCarthy salvage the evening completely, as the innocent tottering on the verge of tarnish and the demure, surprisingly naive, robber. Surrounded by an appropriate cast, they are a touching couple of misfits. Yet, Percy Granger cheats us by disposing of his characters with a distasteful callousness. Achieving Allison's fall from grace with the admirably well-placed line, "Yes, we're all virgins here. Seven nights a week," he drops the curtain just short of satisfaction.
Of direction, I can only say that, like the thwarted Arithmetic Johnson, David Wheeler, Joe Cacaci, and Tom Bloom left their respective plays as they found them. The sets, all by Michael Anania, are appropriate but unimaginative. Ultimately, no one involved in these travesties is innocent. They deserve the highest penalty.