The question has to be asked: can a play written and set in the early 70s that deals with gender conflict possibly be relevant in 2013? It just doesn't seem possible. Surely we are more enlightened now than we were back then. Surely there is no such thing as conflict based on gender any more. Surely we respect each other as equals regardless of gender... don't we?
Alas, this play, given the current state of Australian politics, football sexual predators and our appalling parole system, is depressingly relevant.
Brief and punchy, the play is a conversation between four characters. Bernie (Sam Burns Warr) is a bit of an Alpha male pig (is there any other kind of Alpha male?); Dan (Jordan Fraser Trumble) is his confused co-worker and drinking buddy; Deb (Steph Lee) is the feisty chick Dan hooks up with; Joan (Carly Jacobs) is Deb's femmo friend who doesn't think very highly of Deb's choice of partner. Deb and Dan get it on and move in together but soon realise that a relationship based on great sex isn't that much of a solid thing. We watch their version of love briefly blossom, then wilt.
It sounds pretty flimsy really, but this production by Mellow Yellow is utterly engaging from beginning to end. The characters, in lesser hands, could be caricatures, and basically they are stereotypes, but the actors here go all out whilst still managing to pull off some subtlety that makes them human. That thing about a story not working because the characters are not likeable? I don't know about that in this case. I didn't particularly care about any of these characters, but I recognised their humanity. I guess that's the genius of Mamet's script, matched perfectly in this case with the talent on this small stage.
And the space is intimate, as I think it needs to be given the personal nature of this play. Staged in the function room at The Wilde on Gertrude Street, patrons were sometimes confused about whether they should sit on the couch in case the couch was part of the set. Everyone wisely decided not to take the couch (though there was discussion), and the cast flowed in with the last of the stragglers, took the couch and the action started. There was noise from downstairs (it's a popular pub with a DJ) but such was the strength of the story and its delivery, it didn't matter.
In this world, the characters do the sex and relationship thing but end up being victims of their gender. It's actually quite confronting and pretty fucking sad (expletives, get used to them, as well as some pretty graphic sex talk) that after all these years we haven't gotten our shit together. Oh sure, maybe some have, but why is there still so much sexism? Why do so many of us judge each other based on gender? Will it never end?
These, I think, are the questions David Mamet's tight little play asks. It's my favourite kind of theatre; it's genuinely funny, but with an after taste of something very real.
Mellow Yellow Productions and The Wilde presents
Sexual Perversity in Chicago
by David Mamet
Venue: The Wilde | 153 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, VIC
Dates: 21 - 29 June 2013
Tickets: $15 – $10