Stage

Shamisen string music from the Japanese side was also fun to hear; it blended in a weirdly effective minor-toned way with the flamenco. But the two cultures in the play didn't mix nearly as well, and not for any special reason except that the situation Sorgenfrei presented was forced. I once heard Saul Bellow mention after a reading that he couldn't understand "multiculturalism," because his Chicago childhood was so infused with different cultures nobody had to think about it. The didactic and desperate way Blood Wine tries to push its ethnicities together says more disturbing things about race relations these days than any scene in the play.

-- Michael Scott Moore

Early Mamet
Goldberg Street. A collection of scenes by David Mamet. Directed by Kent Nicholson. Starring Anne-Elise Hagen, Berwick Haynes, Angelique Lele, and James M. Saidy. At Exit Theater, 156 Eddy, through March 22. Call 673-7156.

The only playwright who can rival Shakespeare for sheer mass of production in our local theaters right now is David Mamet. Mamet is as hip as Shakespeare, or the other way around. American Buffalo, The Cryptogram, and Sexual Perversity in Chicago have come and gone this season, and recently the Exit Theater had two concurrent shows containing slices of Mamet plays. Still showing, in the smaller room, Exit Stage Left, is a medley of early Mamet scenes called Goldberg Street. Early stuff by Mamet is fun to watch after a string of his mature plays, partly because some of it is so pretentious.

Mamet has a famous flair for gritty American speech, but scenes like "Power Outage" and "Old Vermont" in Goldberg Street are reminders that he was once young. I don't know when they were written (or even if he went to college), but they have an undergraduate feel: "Old Vermont" is an opaque piece about snow and cold in New England that comes off like an overserious poem, and "Power Outage" is a conversation between two women in the dark about a lot of things, including security guards in a record store. "They are empowered to shoot you for the theft of diversionary items!" one of them says, using language no one would credit Mamet with today. The characters are decidedly not gritty, even stilted, and so is the acting; Anne-Elise Hagen and Angelique Lele never find a focus for the half-developed skit.

Power and the urge for love are two motifs holding the scenes together, and the show works best when the meaning is kept subtle. In "Deer Dogs" Berwick Haynes and James Saidy banter inarticulately about a law that allows hunters to shoot dogs who chase deer; but pretty soon it sounds like a social-justice issue. "The Hat" has a shopper and a saleslady in front of a store mirror, with Angelique Lele doing a charming job as a woman so worried about her appearance she wants to buy most of the store. These scenes, like a few others ("Cold," "Two Conversations"), show Mamet learning to serve his serious medicine with a comedy pill.

Goldberg Street ends with a longer piece called "All Men Are Whores: An Inquiry." It flirts with pretentiousness 1) by being a series of monologues, rather than a played-out story, and 2) by mixing metaphysics with sex; but the result is entertaining and even sultry, because James Saidy does a compelling job as a woman-haunted young man. It just runs a little long. Berwick Haynes recites some of the metaphysics, and he's closer to himself dealing with highbrow material than he is when he tries to be coarse. But Anne-Elise Hagen is strained in her role as a woman passing through phases of flattery and dominance in a relationship with some imaginary man. Like the young playwright through most of Goldberg Street, she still hasn't found her voice.

-- Michael Scott Moore

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