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Squirrels Invade New Orleans

As Arthur keeps retelling his story of the squirrel, Edmond keeps asking, as we do, what does this mean—and Arthur is stumped. Yet as the story is told and retold, together with clichés about storytelling (needing beginning middle and end, rising action, climax, falling action, etc.) the metastory emerges as a struggle to create a story. Edmond

SQUIRRELS

      By David Mamet
Evolving Door Production True Brew Café New Orleans
May 29, 2004


One danger of performing Mamet in a small space was revealed by this production directed by Sarah Clifford on a tiny stage at True Brew.  The multiple blackouts of Mamet’s early plays seemed to work well until an off stage thump after the fourth one revealed the actors back on stage.  But a weird red shadow seemed to define one strand of hair of Paul Atredies, as Arthur, and then a red part seemed to appear on his head—but when he bowed his head a bit, a little more blood was revealed on the top of his head, grotesquely trickling down onto his forehead. In the dark he apparently bumped his head.  Beware of blackouts in a small theatre!

'One would like to be sympathetic, but the production was doomed by the two male leads, who expended great energy and dynamism from the outset—not really qualities that Mamet’s plays require.  Indeed the actors seemed to work against the very laid back text, almost demanding that the audience take it as comic rather than letting it speak for itself.  Recommended reading—True and False for director Sarah Cllifford and actors.  Nicholas Brown, playing a kind of Jim Carrey sidekick, did all of his acting with his eyes, doing eye rolls and sideways glances to show his distance from Arthur and his squirrelly obsession.  Robyn Nolting as the cleaning woman was a relief because she didn’t have to try as hard to be liked or likeable.  Her only violation involved lines delivered directly to the audience ignoring the fourth wall, a real directing deviation for Mamet who never does this.  In addition, this was a most attractive woman with large earrings—wearing an immaculate blue smock—carrying nothing but a rag—not quite a conventional cleaning woman.  She looked as if she’d never been near dirt in her life.

The text doesn’t give the audience much help.  As Arthur keeps retelling his story of the squirrel, Edmond keeps asking, as we do, what does this mean—and Arthur is stumped.  Yet as the story is told and retold, together with clichés about storytelling (needing beginning middle and end, rising action, climax, falling action, etc.) the metastory emerges as a struggle to create a story.  Edmond finally gives up being the apprentice, tries his own hand at writing, with much more flaccid, descriptive prose and attempts to reach grand statements of meaning.  But these are even more lifeless than the squirrel story because they are all rhetoric masking an empty center.  Arthur, at least, is struggling to create a real story.  Meaning doesn’t come from the outside, but from the events of the story itself.


However,  another dimension to the creative process is represented by the comely, unnamed Cleaning Woman.  At first she seems to be Mamet’s usual non-human female from early plays, just popping in to ask solicitous questions—do you want a beer?  do you want to make love?—and  then cleaning up after the men.  What else is a woman for?  Yet perhaps because she looks nothing like a Cleaning Woman in costume, accessories, or dress, one begins to see her instead as another traditional female function—Inspiration, the Muse of the Writer.  Her own notebook, left behind, becomes the inspiration to get them out of the squirrels at the end.  A kitchy goose porcelain figure replaces the great squirrel pencil holder, the best prop of the play, and a whole new obsession begins.

David K. Sauer
Spring Hill College