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Mamet Marathon: 16 April 2006 No One Will Be Immune and The Shawl

Both predicate paranormal experiences for which no rational explanation can be given. Putting them together, however, simply accentuated their inability to rationalize that which they try so hard to explain.

16 April 2006 No One Will Be Immune and The Shawl

No One Will Be Immune

This pairing was the most intriguing to me in advance, since they are the most atypical—supernatural plays by an otherwise super-realist playwright. Both predicate paranormal experiences for which no rational explanation can be given. Putting them together, however, simply accentuated their inability to rationalize that which they try so hard to explain.

Instead, the synergy made me go allegorical in interpretation, a direction I never have tried to pursue. Both, however, struck me as parables of the artist. The first, No One Will Be Immune
was different from the production I saw originally at the Ensemble in 1995 with David Rasche. There, the emphasis on the interrogated man was more on his befuddlement. He had no explanation for what he had seen, or the actions he had taken, and was trying as hard as the investigator to make sense out of his own experience. The interrogator, I thought, was awfully harsh with him, trying to force him into an admission. But clearly he was himself bewildered that he should have seen the white light and felt it immediately meant the plane would explode.

In this version, which was terrifically acted by the two attorneys of Romance, the sense was rather of anger by the interrogated (Christian Stolte) at all the attempts by the investigator (Steve Pickering) to trip him up. “Explode”? “You said crash.” “What’s the difference.” Interestingly, though, here the interrogator was always quiet, matter of fact, purely Mametian in his queries. This seemed only to provoke the “A” into furious defense of his wording, his earlier attempts to explain the experience: “I don’t know. I don’t know. These are just feelings. Feelings. Do you know. I was so tired. I can’t make them out. I can’t make them out.” The frustration in trying to explain or define the inexpressible was powerful, and one couldn’t help but sympathize with “A.”

Yet when we returned to our hotel it stuck me like a blinding white light—this play is really an kind of performance of the process of playwriting, in which the playwright interrogates his own character, asking why he did what he did. Why did he say “baby” rather than “child”—where did he leave the baby? [He claimed the plane, not yet having taken off, needed to return to the gate for him to disembark because he left his “baby.”] Under interrogation he explains it was all he could think of to get the plane to reverse, and he planned to say, later, it wasn’t a physical baby, but a manuscript which he was writing which he’d left behind. He just called it his baby.

The continual attempts to spin out the story, to follow dead ends, to try to twist one word into a whole subtext is just a way for the playwright to get the story to explain itself. The play opens with a debate over what kind of “opening” the bright light implied. The interrogator thought the word meant “opportunity” but A thinks it was just a spotlight from a supermarket opening:
Or… I see. An Opportunity to do what though? Or…an opening, it could be, an opening into something. Which is, yes, what we might mean if we say, and the word you used, was “opportunity.” I often thought, if you could fill in the blanks. Of those things you misremembered, of those you forgot, as in a dream, or, do you see, a puzzle that you could not solve, the blanks, then you would have a sotry which, which another story, do you see, which… (109-110)

One story opens out into another story as one interrogates the words the character uses. And the white light, in this allegory, becomes the light of inspiration.


The Shawl

We were most looking forward to this work to be directed by its originator, Mike Nussbaum—but alas we had a substitution in the role of the charlatan seer, and the other two—whom we’d seen in Home Friday night, were still mismatched. Laura Fisher as Miss A was terrific, but Darrel W. Cox, the only non-equity member of the company, was the weak link as Charles. Fisher was very calm, collected, and well dressed in three different suits (by Tatjana Radisic). Yet each point that scored by John would produce the slightest movement—a hand tightening on the seat of her chair, which would tell the audience that he had touched her. It was very nicely done. Cox seemed different wearing sleevless vest, bare arms, gold jewelry and tattoos. He became a stereotype rather than a character. With all that gold, however, it seemed odd that he would be so insistent on getting $50! and being evicted over it.

Seeing “the trick from the back” acted out, however, gave me a sense that the play was also a retelling of the actor as artist, reading the other actor’s reactions, playing off the other, interacting, when inspiration strikes. The con man insists to his apprentice that it is all a matter of skill, not magic. Yet even as he debunks the magic, it occurs. His insistence on technique and skill, however, is much the same as Mamet’s similar insistence on technique for the actor (True and False) as being the whole secret of acting. Yet magic does occur.
    


David Sauer

Spring Hill College