American Ensemble Theatre Bobby Gould In HellBy Genie Baskir • May 28th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
American Ensemble Theatre
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop , Washington, D.C.
Through June 9, 2012
75 minutes total
$10 (+ Fees)
Reviewed May 26th, 2012
“In my family, in the days prior to television, we liked to while away the evenings by making ourselves miserable, based solely on our ability to speak the language viciously. That’s probably where my ability was honed.” David Mamet
Not just Mamet’s family…every Jewish family; or at least the ones your feisty reviewer knows. But the viciousness of the language was not turned on the parties around the table. That ferocity was the price paid to enter an intellectual realm where debate became argument and agreement was only a temporary truce. Every such family is a Mamet play in microcosm… to be consumed only by the principals involved.
And so we have Bobby Gould In Hell, a loud, wordy and vicious (Mamet’s nomenclature, not mine) piece by David Mamet now playing at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop and performed by the American Ensemble Theatre. Director Tom Prewitt has assembled a strong cast with the skill and stamina to keep up the pace of a Mamet play and used the cozy black box space at CHAW to great effect by creating an almost personal relationship between audience and cast.
Your Reviewer had some issues with the play and spent an entire night ruminating on her vexation; the play creates more questions than it answers. Where had she heard of Bobby Gould before? Of course, Speed The Plow! Bobby Gould In Hell is the successor to Speed The Plow; I went and reread Speed The Plow and, upon doing that, made sense of the second play. Now I know why Bobby is such a nebbuchal and why he is being interrogated here.
I found the play wildly derivative as I was considering how to approach this review and then I went back into the years. Mamet plays are Seinfeldish /Davidish exercises, but Mamet came first. The Seinfeld television show was the derivative; what Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David did with that TV show was to let everyone in to what can be called the collective Jewish memory and create a new and parallel pop culture collective memory of the 1990’s. Understanding this makes Bobby Gould In Hell plausible.
Bobby Gould (Slice Hicks) is a bad man who insists he’s really a good man. He finds himself suddenly and mysteriously transported to a place that appears to be the Playboy mansion after an earthquake. It seems to be Hell and it’s confirmed as that in a very clever way. Bobby is greeted by a 21st century kool kat hipster in geeky eyeglasses and argyle sweater (Mikael Johnson). The Interrogator (Anthony van Eyck) has diverted from a fishing trip to deal with Bobby who is subjected to a Kafkaesque interrogation meant to turn every answer he gives inside out while he tries to keep a step ahead of his crazed questioner. Bobby is alternately belligerent and friendly with The Interrogator as he tries to weasel his way out of his difficulty. A former girlfriend, Glenna (Liz Dutton), is imported into Hell as a witness against Bobby. As the principals reveal their characters the figments of George Costanza, Elaine Benes and Kramer emerge. It was Seinfeld and David who knocked off Mamet.
The Interrogator is the wild, scenery-chewing banshee jumping around, firing absurd questions at Bobby while he tries to give The Interrogator the slip and Glenna can’t quit while she’s ahead. The Interrogator’s assistant coolly goes about his business in a comically prissy and genteel manner while, literally, all Hell is breaking loose. This is classic Mamet with wild, loud speech and foul language; but it’s not necessary to read Speed The Plow to get a kick out of this perversely Talmudic exercise in how to outbullsh$t a bullsh$tter.
This is a good show made better by perfect technical direction. Sound, lights and special effects gave body to the atmosphere and reinforced the comic elements of a night in Hell. But wait…there’s more! Along with Bobby Gould In Hell is a bonus groupie special: another play, Navigating Turbulence by AET playwright-in-residence Zachary Fernebok.
Navigating Turbulence is a clever little one-act, also happening in Hell, that seems to be easy to figure out but turns out to have a devastating punch line. Matthew Sparacino neatly plays an iconic American hero, once thought a victim, but there are no heroes here.
The American Ensemble Theatre is presenting a fine evening out at a value price in a great neighborhood. Take advantage of it.
I’ve read all of David Mamet’s plays, but when I see his plays staged they always get me in some profound way. I’m also a huge fan of Sartre’s No Exit. I love the fact that Mamet does his own spin, makes it his own. It really does make you think about what’s going on in the world, especially being in Washington, D.C., and ask yourself, “How good or bad are people really? Can they change?”
Photos provided by American Ensemble Theater
- Bobby Gould: Slice Hicks
- The Interrogator: Anthony van Eyck
- Interrogator’s Assistant: Mikael Johnson
- Glenna: Liz Dutton
- Lindy: Matthew Sparacino
- Director: Tom Prewitt
- Stage Manager: Jeff Phillips
- Lighting Design: Jason Auldem-Brinke
- Sound Design: Ali Miller
- Costume Design: Lynly A. Saunders
- Scenic and Prop Design: Steven Royal
Disclaimer: American Ensemble Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8123.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.