The Old Neighborhood
THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD
David Mamet. Royal Court Theatre Downstairs at the Duke of York's,
London. 16 July 1998
Left to right: Diana Quick and Colin Stinton in THE OLD
NEIGHBORHOOD by David Mamet,
Following closely on the heels of its critically successful (and yet inexplicably
nomination-less Tony Award) run during the 1997-98 Broadway season, The Old
Neighborhood opened its British premiere production on June 17, 1998. Many
(but certainly not all) British critics praised David Mamet's latest trilogy
of one-act plays with expletives lavished earlier on the play by their American
colleagues: "fascinatingwith an electric charge" (Butler, The Independent),
"poignant, compelling piece. . . a fluent, eloquent production" (Brown,
Mail on Sunday), "subtle, dark vignettes. Short but deep, they occupy
and trouble the mind long after the evening is over" (The New Statesman),
"tenderly despairing and full of a Chekhovian yearning for dreams that
were never realized" (Edwardes, Time Out),
"a dark jewel of a play, fearless in its argument and its emotions" (Peter, Sunday Times), and The Old Neighborhood is "one of the supreme rhythmic experiences that theatre in the 1990s has yet afforded us" (Macaulay, Financial Times).
Patrick Marber, the much acclaimed author of Dealer's Choice and Closer, whose American premiere is scheduled for Fall 1998 on Broadway, directed the British cast of The Old Neighborhood. Mamet, who saw the British production for the first time on the same evening as this reviewer, apparently had little to no contact with Marber as he shaped his staged vision of The Disappearance of the Jews, Jolly, and Deeny. Scott Zigler, on the other hand, directed different American casts in both the April 11, 1997 world premiere at the Hasty Pudding Theatre in Cambridge, MA (please refer to Leslie Kane's review of the play's thematic concerns and their theatrical production in the Fall 1997 issue of DMR) and the New York premiere (Booth Theatre, November 19, 1997). Unlike Marber's work in England, Zigler's production was directly informed by Mamet's "presence," whether literally or metaphoricallyand nowhere more starkly than in the one-act gem that completes Mamet's trilogy, Deeny.
Zigler's handling of Deeny, in a critical way, captured the relationship among theory, text, and performance that many theater scholars and practitioners never see fully realized. The theoretician and author of the text, in this case, is Mamet. Having recently published his controversial book on acting, True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor, Mamet outrightly dismisses Stanislavsky and any attempt by actors to "become" their characters: "The actor is onstage to communicate the play to the audience. That is the beginning and the end of his and her job. To do so the actor needs a strong voice, superb diction, a supple, well proportioned body, and a rudimentary understanding of the play." Action, therefore, is everything. The actor's job is to say the words--to simply say the words.
Rebecca Pidgeon's disputed portrayal in New York of Deeny as static, cold, and, stylistically, speaking in a relatively uninflected voice in a stream-of-consciousness manner--a certain type of textbook performance of Mametian acting--was utterly distinct from Diana Quick's Deeny in London. Pidgeon, under Zigler's direction, rarely looked at Peter Riegert's Bobby or delivered lines as though she was in conversation with Bobby. Marber, on the other hand, completely embraced a Stanislavskian mode (which was also utilized in his handling of the earlier one-acts); Quick's Deeny sat face-to-face in conversation with Colin Stinton's Bobby, shifting her vocal tones as frequently as her subject matter, never giving Bobby a chance to avert his eyes from hers as they sat together in a banquette. Shifting roles between speaker and listener, the two former lovers expressed and experienced Mamet's dialogue as though their conversation was happening for the first time. It was a conversation that sounded both familiar and unfamiliar. Its unfamiliarity was deeply rooted in the actors' performances and in the director's vision of the "realness" present in Mamet's brief play.
One left the theater aware that truth and falsity infused the three plays' theoretical, textual, and practical perspectives--as they must, finally, in all drama and theatre. But Deeny was a startling revelation in London in its theatrical interpretation. For an American spectator, at least, one had the opportunity to hear Mamet's characters differently, and deliberately so. Rather than repeating endlessly the false, critical claim that Mamet's highly choreographed dialogue is like "REAL TALK," the way Americans really talk among themselves, Marber's production provided the opportunity to hear how two Mamet characters can talk between themselves if flesh and blood are also given dramatic currency and legitimacy.
New York University