Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Bob's review of The Little Dog Laughed
The actor desperately thrashes his way through this dense, choppy work, occasionally fencing with an invisible rapier, always at the brittle edge of conciliation, without obvious manner or affectation. More polished and fully immersed in a character than ever, you never get the feeling Mr. Neiman is covering up with some kind of grandeur, or pre-conceived mannerism, or accent, or anything-which makes the action all the more harrowing.
It seems to pain both characters terribly in this play, Mr. Neiman's education professor and the young college student played by Michele Dumoulin, to have to acknowledge anyone else's personal perspective until, perhaps, the final scene when all bets are off. And the second-act announcement that teacher and pupil have been seeing things in vastly different terms comes as a wild and astonishing revelation, thanks to Mr. Mamet's script. Sitting in judgment over the wildly different claims of sexual harassment seems to be terribly important to most people who review the story. But it's really about that "different world" phenomenon, and the meager words that reach out into the empty space between those very subjective realms, and the people who refuse to accommodate other views.
I can't help thinking that none of this would have jelled if not for this show's two directors: Jen Bock, who is often seen acting in some very fine plays around town herself; and David A. Lane, about whom I know nothing, beyond the educational background he shares with Ms. Bock. And Ms. Dumoulin's performance as Carol is excellent, as well, full of unassailable frustration and fierce political consciousness later on. Other critics have called her character a liar, or expressed ambivalence about her claims, but most of those critics are college professors themselves, who ought to acknowledge this professor's dubious skills in didacticism that allow the ghastly conflict in the first place.
The script seems designed to upset and provoke, without being terribly intellectually provocative in any original way. Yes, John delivers a long urgent, staccato monolog about education as a means of "warehousing" the young and questions whether some people are simply not meant to be educated, and the tension mounts as he struggles to purchase a house in a series of heated phone calls. And overall, it's fairly interesting to see how a young student of modest intellect can be raised up to wage war in a universe of words and ideas herself. But Eugene Ionesco's The Lesson covers the same essential theme (of words as weapons) and quite a lot faster. And the story of a student destroying a teacher follows a well-worn path, too. In the end, however, Mr. Mamet seems bent on exciting our own worst revenge fantasies against a somewhat improbable character, not unlike anything you could see on any recent TV crime show, solely for the purpose of raising a large pile of cash. Still, this production is so perfectly directed and performed, we must reluctantly accede to the great power of melodrama.
Through November 16, 2008 at the Black Cat Theater, 2810 Sutton Blvd. Maplewood, MO. For information or reservations call (618) 920-6377.
Photo by Ed Reggi