The Duck Variations
Asylum Theatre
Russel Street Theatre, 775-4324

Through Oct 14

Not since Arthur Miller has there been an American playwright as overrated as David Mamet. Little more than actors' exercises, Mamet's inert plays defy recognizable speech patterns and baffle those who might wish to sensibly block out their action on a stage. Mamet's work has a narrow--if vocal--constituency among those who favor the theatrical continuum that curves loosely from Harold Pinter to Quentin Tarantino, all guns and menacing undercurrents. As befits any cult object, he is shelf-bendingly prolific. At least Miller had something to say. Engaged with and enraged at society, Miller commented on it, though lugubriously. Mamet's plays are content-free.

That said, for its debut performance, the new Asylum Theatre has taken one of Mamet's nothing plays and made something creditable with it. The Duck Variations is a variation on a premise we have seen on the stage many times before, most notably in Albee's The Zoo Story. Two people meet on a park bench and talk. Nothing much else happens. I suppose we are meant to observe real life in its unadulterated honesty. And I suppose we are meant to be moved by the two characters of this play, George and Emil, as they draft the ducks in the park they visit into metaphors for life's contingencies. In reality, the text's directionlessness and vagueness is fairly tedious.

Director and company co-founder Jason Maniccia has found something of value in The Duck Variations' hour-long dialogue. And he has found two actors, Danny Bruno and Jim Caputo, who can give Mamet's skeletal text some meat. Rarely have Mamet's repetitious, unactable lines actually sounded this authentic. Asylum is starting small, and this small play is smartly done, but unfortunately for the spectator, The Duck Variations is small in more variations than one.