Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Dynamic Production of David Mamet's Sexual Perversity In Chicago

Also see Richard's review of Pirates of Penzance

Greth Saxe and David Jenkins
American Conservatory Theatre is presenting David Mamet's Sexual Perversity In Chicago at the Geary Theatre through February 5th. This frank comedy of '70s sexual manners goes at a rapid speed for 70 minutes. A fine cast of two young couples gives the audience insight on how these young folks with inadequate expressions meet members of the opposite sex. David Mamet wrote this play as an acting exercise and it premiered in Chicago in 1974 along with his other one act play Duck Variations. The playwright was hailed as the new American playwright who had a genius for writing crisp natural speech. Many critics call it "machine gun" dialogue and has become the norm for many modern playwrights.

Sexual Perversity has been a staple for cutting edge theatre companies for years. The comedy was recently seen at London's Comedy Theatre with Matthew Perry, Hank Azaria, Minnie Driver and Kelly Reilly. Peter Riegert, who directed this production, played the role of Danny in a 2000 Off-Broadway production with F. Murray Abraham playing the braggart Bernie.

In Mamet's comedy, Bernie (Gareth Saxe) is a brisk misogynist who regards all women as meat. He tells tall tales about picking up women (his story about his picking up a woman who wants to have sex in battle gear seems out of the realm of possibility). His younger colleague Danny (David Jenkins) is a naïve person who does not have a personality of his own. He is also very gullible when Bernie spins these impossible yarns, especially when he tells the young man he has had sex in every possible location. Bernie is a true B.S. artist and someone most people would not want for a best friend.

Joan (Elizabeth Kapplow) is an acidic feminist and she parallels Bernie. One would think she just might have lesbian tendencies. Her roommate Deborah (Marjan Neshat) is a nice young inexperienced girl who falls in love with Danny. She moves into his apartment probably a little too soon, only to find out that they are becoming just like Bernie and Joan and soon they develop a sizzling reviled relationship for each other. The older two also help fan the flames of their hatred for each other.

Gareth Saxe (recently played Vicomte de Valmont in ACT's Dangerous Liaisons plus the Off-Broadway production of Outward Bound) plays a lounge lizard type of blow hard almost to the hilt, with gusto to a point that you actually hate the character. David Jenkins (New York Fringe Festival Back from the Front plus many Chicago theatre credits) is first rate as sexually inexperienced Danny. You wonder how he can even pick up women since he seems so naïve about the art of conversation. His mannerisms when trying to be macho are beautifully accomplished.

Elizabeth Kapplow (WTC View at the New York Fringe Festival) gives a plucky performance as the man-hating Joan. She is full of rhetoric on why she is a ball-busting man hater, though you realize she has had some crushed relationships with the opposite sex. Marjan Neshat (Off-Broadway production of The Golden Ladder and No Exit) portrays Deborah with a mixture of openness and fortitude, but she soon realizes that her romance is going down the tubes.

Ken Dorsey has devised an excellent multilevel set of five square platforms that are skeletal in appearance. They represent a filing office where Bernie and Danny work, a bar where pick-ups are made, the apartment of Joan and Deborah, the lonely apartment of Bernie, and the bedroom of Danny. The actors have to scurry around to get to these sets in short order during the disco pace of the play. Peter Riegert's direction is forceful and openhanded for these outstanding actors. Costumes by Christine Dougherty's reflect the '70s, especially the day-glo outfit worn by David Jenkins in the last scene.

Sexual Perversity in Chicago continues at A.C.T. Geary Theatre, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco through February 5th. For tickets call 415-749-2228 or visit

American Conservatory Theatre's next production is August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. It opens on February 10 and runs through March 12th.

Photo: Ken Friedman

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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