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The Old Neighborhood

In the Aurora Theatre Company, Berkeley, California, Michael Santo plays a particularly bland and understated Bobby. Although he initiates the action—which unsurprisingly in Mametland consists primarily of a series duologues—but remains more spectator (or specter) than participant.

THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD

By David Mamet

In the MMichael  Michale In

1 October 2003



    Thanks to the Aurora Theatre Company’s The Old Neighborhood, I have come to understand David Mamet’s 1998 trio of dramatic sketches in ways I have not heretofore—paradoxically so.  Until this production, I had seen this play as belonging to Bobby Gould, a middle-aged man now separated from his wife and their children, who returns to his old neighborhood in search of some intangible source of solace and renewal.  In this production, however, Michael Santo plays a particularly bland and understated Bobby.  Although he initiates the action—which unsurprisingly in Mametland consists primarily of a series duologues—but remains more spectator (or specter) than participant.
    In “The Disappearance of the Jews,” Ron Kaell’s Joey dominates the scene not solely because he has the more garrulous role, but because Santo’s Bobby seems neither particularly engaged in past memories nor interested in the fates of old friends.  Similarly in the eponymously titled “Jolly” and “Deeny” pieces, Gould’s passivity gives the impression in the former of a distance between him and his sister, and in the latter, between him and an old flame.  These stretches of emotional space never entertain the possibility of his eventual inclusion within their lives.  Consequently what dramatic tensions that do exist seem to lie solely in the individual characters’ primarily painful recollections of the past.
    Although Mamet’s text certainly justifies director Joy Carlin’s interpretation, the Aurora production lacks the tension of the Royal Court’s premier.  In that production, Patrick Marber’s direction emphasized Bobby’s more active engagement in, and exploration of, his friends’ and family’s lives, only to experience the sober and saddening realization, which, while never a surprise, always twinges: you can’t go home again.  In this production, the play’s dénouement seems preordained; Bobby’s eventual departure is driven more by inevitability than personal revelation or self-awareness.
    That being said, the play’s 90 minutes fly by in the Aurora’s intimate space.  The handsome minimalist backdrop of telephone poles looks for all the world like crosses on Calvary fading into the distant cityscape.  Amy Resnick is superb as Jolly, as Bobby’s self-pitying, vulnerable, angry, yet loving sister, while Tom Darci makes a marvelous foil as her compassionate, resolute husband.  Delia MacDougall plays Deeny as a world-weary woman whose accelerating prolixity and increasingly nervous fidgeting betray her growing realization that Bobby has come not to renew an old relationship but to say “goodbye.”   
    Finally, the Aurora’s production intimates, as the title implies, that the play’s central focus is not Bobby Gould, but the neighborhood itself.  It is a neighborhood peopled with very human and unfulfilled souls frozen into a past from which anyone who could must flee to somewhere (anywhere?) beyond those receding telephone poles.
STEPHANIE TUCKER
CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, SACRAMENTO