Ensemble Theatre’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” Acted Well but Just Scratches the Surface

Ensemble Theatre’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” Acted Well but Just Scratches the Surface
By Marjorie Preston

“Sexual Perversity in Chicago” by David Mamet, the inaugural production at Ensemble Theatre’s new “Second Stage” space, ambitiously tries to cover kinky sex, lesbianism, molestation, premature ejaculation, living together, the power struggle between the sexes, pornography, bestiality, and gender stereotypes, but understandably, in just over an hour, only pursues these topics shallowly. The funny and realistic script seems to have a short attention span, jumping quickly from one subject to another in pursuit of completely covering the entire territory of sexual relations.

It’s 1976 Chicago as we meet the cast of “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” through a series of vignettes about sex. Bernie Litko (Tyler Whidden) is a Chicago lothario who loves to discuss his sexual exploits with his friend Danny Shapiro (Mitch Rose). Danny is a bit more classy and open-minded, but still seems to follow Bernie’s lead and advice about the opposite sex. Danny’s girlfriend, Deborah Soloman (Layla Schwartz) is a commercial artist looking for true love, while her roommate, Kindergarten teacher Joan Webber (Katie Nabors), trusts more in her friends than her suitors.

Joan’s character, for her part, critiques everything Deborah does and even tells her she feels Deborah’s relationship with Danny will only last two months. Despite this foreshadowing, Deborah tries her best to make it work with Danny, and when it does not, at least one person in the play has learned a lesson about the dynamic between men and women.

The actors in Ensemble’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” are quite good – Whidden’s timing in particular is very natural as he slings his bull as the overconfident Bernie. The best writing is essentially Mamet’s monologues: when Bernie spins out of control, decrying the ERA or complaining about the quality of pornography, when Danny explains how Bernie calmed Danny down at a time when he was frustrated, or when Joan addresses two students who are caught “playing doctor.”

Director Ian Hinz keeps the action of his talented cast moving with quick scene changes, absolutely essential to maintaining the momentum of the choppy script. The set is minimal as well in this new black box 39-seater, offering simple chairs, theater cubes, a bar, and a hint of a bed to handle all the scenes.

Mamet’s fast-paced scenes don’t delve far into the subjects they discuss – he hits and runs with realistic seventies lingo and lots of characteristic swearing, then breaks the tension, pushes us away, and moves on to another topic. “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” doesn’t come off as dated; it just seems to be covering too much ground.

“Sexual Perversity in Chicago” runs through November 3, Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. at 2843 Washington Boulevard, Cleveland Heights. For tickets, call (216) 321-2930 or visit www.ensemble-theatre.org. The play contains adult language and themes.

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