As Director Deanna Jent says in her notes, “a sweet Christopher Durang play? A funny Mamet script without using the “f” word?” It does seem like an alternate universe (to see the “real” Mamet, check out New Jewish in February when they present “Speed-The-Plow”). But Durang’s 10-minute look at a blue-haired theatre patron’s view of theatre in general (“Mrs. Sorken”) paired with Mamet’s take on old age and friendships (“The Duck Variations”) is a classy duo that go well together.
We see Peggy Billo enter the Mustard Seed Theatre space along with the other patrons and she takes a seat in the second or third row. After the “welcome” by our Director/Artistic Director, Ms. Jent, she introduces her well-learned colleague, Mrs. Sorken and a delightful mish-mash of fact and fabrication comes forth as the fox-stole, pill-box hat adorned lady gives forth with the derivation of theatre and other related subjects as she sees it. Rattled at times (when she can’t find her prepared notes) and reaching for answers she really doesn’t know, it is one of the most hilarious ten minutes you’ll spend in- and learning about- the theatre. She even mentions our other featured playwright of the evening- David Mamet- with a mix of flattery and condemnation.
This leads us into the featured piece of the evening where veteran actors Bobby Miller and Richard Lewis have the time of their lives discussing everything from ducks to Greek culture and its influence on the modern world- mainly ducks. You get the idea that these two elderly gents get together on a regular basis on this same park bench (maybe daily, maybe once a week?) and discuss- perhaps the benefits of macaroni or why everyone liked Ike- whatever tangent they get off on that particular day. Among this seeming gibberish is true insight into their characters as well as their long-standing relationship with each other which, among other things, helps combat the loneliness of their obvious singular lives.
Reminiscent of the great one act, “I’m Herbert” from Robert Anderson’s play, “You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running,” this Mamet masterpiece covers so much in the space of less than an hour on this park bench that is filled with wisdom and befuddlement for this moment in time. Both actors handle the material with sincerity and diligence. The sidelong glances- particularly from Mr. Miller- tell a story in itself and their long friendship is verified with small touches like one man simply holding out his cup while the other, without hesitation or break in conversation, fills it from his thermos. It’s these little touches and moments of enlightenment that make these two actors priceless and Deanna Jent’s direction flawless.
The spare but effective set design and perfect lights are brought to us by the brilliant Bess Moynihan and the Emma Bruntrager costumes fit the bill perfectly while the realistic sound design of Kareem Deanes adds to the lovely evening. It all goes by so quickly- about an hour and ten minutes for both plays- but it’s one of the most touching and beneficial nights you can have in the theatre. What a lovely way to start off the 2013 season.
Mustard Seed Theatre presents “Mrs. Sorken and The Duck Variations” through February 10th at the Fontbonne Theatre space. Give them a call at 314-719-8060 or contact them at mustardseedtheatre.com for tickets or more information.