by Bryan Jackson & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & ernie craves sexual conquest; Danny yearns for the "right" woman. Fearful of being victimized, Joan busily builds walls; for Deborah, it's all about finding her ideal match. David Mamet's 1974 play with the off-putting title, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, turns out to be a cautionary tale about a quartet of disco-era young adults who are trying to find themselves. All four go through the games, lies, and come-ons of the singles world.
Be warned: If you think the title's a bit strong, wait till you see the play (at the Civic's Studio Theatre through May 19). If you have difficulty swallowing profanity, you may find that all the F-bombs may cloud your enjoyment of a meaningful piece of work. Because while Perversity's subject matter can be shocking, the mundane and undeniable humanity of the tale of these four characters lends itself to reflection. The Studio cast handles the language naturally and ably. Another warning: Don't get too comfortable. Just when you grow accustomed to the language -- bam! -- Mamet hits you from an unexpected corner.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & exual Perversity opens in a bar, where Bernie and Danny are having a beer and eatingsnacks. They banter about a conquest that Bernie has made. The story Bernie tells locks you in and takes you on a ride that is incredible and hilarious. In a well-focused and animated portrayal, Damon Mentzer captures the bark of Bernie's crude alpha dog. As Danny, Paul D. Villabrille, is likeable, if not electrifying; he effectively carries some of the more poignant scenes. Villabrille's portrayal of the "good guy" who is "looking for something but isn't sure what that something might be" is solid. Danny's first love scene with Shayla Keating's Deborah (with more to follow) struck an edgy chord of reality. As their characters tried to discover how they fit together as a couple, Villabrille and Keating made their emotional and physical discomforts palpable.
Sometimes Mamet intends to leave us with fragments of unfinished moments. But at some junctures in this production, a facial expression, a gesture, or simply an inflection in the voice could have sealed a moment to greater effect. Opportunities to establish motives seemed to be overlooked. Both of the female characters seemed underplayed. Line delivery was often flat; in particular, Jolene Smith, in the role of Joan, occasionally left me unconvinced.
Peter Hardie's set is an open arrangement that suggests a variety of locations and events. David Baker's focused lighting leads us into each scene, indicating place and time to great effect. However, some costume choices didn't work well under the lights. Director Wes Deitrick's blocking is purposeful and compact, with easy shifts from scene to scene (though at times, scene changes seemed a bit long).
Overall, Deitrick has directed a well-paced, thought-provoking insight into "the hunt." The final scene develops an exquisite male bonding moment. One of the best moments of this uneven production arrives when Joan meditates on "all the antisocial behavior that chooses sex as its form of expression." We're left with a provocative question: When it comes to sex, are any of us finding what we're looking for?
Bryan Jackson has been involved with numerous productions for Spokane Civic Theater, Onyx Theatre, Spokane Theatrical Group and Interplayers. He taught theater in public schools for 10 years.