The Water Engine

30-year-old David Mamet script could use an update from the playwright

This is a minor play by a major playwright and the reasons are obvious. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet penned this morality fable early in his career. The idea is intriguing: A naive inventor gets caught up in a menacing nightmare when trying to patent an engine that runs only on water. The plot concept began as a short story, transformed into a radio drama for NPR in 1976, and then Mamet transferred it to the stage as a hybrid of all three genres. The eight-member cast plays dozens of Our Town-type characters set against the backdrop of the 1934 Chicago World's Fair when dreams of transcending the Depression and the golden days of radio were healthy and strong. The serious themes inherent in the creation of a water-fueled engine and the evil oil corporations that would like to see it disappear have never been more relevant than in our present fossil fuel crisis. But this production — staged as half radio show, half noir theater — devolves into a tepid thriller refusing to explore any of the interesting questions it asks. It would serve Mamet well to utilize his matured writing chops to retool this light drama into a searing commentary of our modern times.

— Nathaniel Eaton

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