Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.

David Mamet's ear for how people say things and the noises they make while trying to avoid saying things is one of the relative wonders of our present theater. "Duck Variations" and "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," which form the award-winning collection known as "The Mamet Plays," Thursday night began a run at the West End Theater with the original off-Broadway cast.

A refinement of Mamet's dialogue gift is a kind of affectionate reflection of his characters, two in the first, four in the second. For all the vagaries of the two old duffers of "Duck Variations" and the shock accents on sex and physical details of the second play's quartet, his people somehow earn our understanding. He likes them, we like them as fellow humans.

The first shows two men on a lakeshore bench, Chicago in the background. Mike Kellin, whom you've seen in dozens of films and TV biggies, looks like an anxious lemon. With his eyes into binoculars, Michael Egan looks like a self-satisfied pear. They begin to talk about ducks, of which their knowledge is dim.

"Anyone knows how to swim. It takes a bird to fly" marvels Egans pear, so pleased to have thought of it. Kellin's parched, lemony look tells what he thinks of this. "It's a good thing to be perceptive but you shouldn't let it get in the way." It sounds solid but it melts fast.

The two perfectly attuned performances are even better than I recall from New York, overlapping and even going off into counterpoint. Cheers for Kellin and Egan.

Singles wanting to be couples are the characters of "Perversity," two males two females drifting into insults and intimacies. Peter Riegert and F. Murray Abraham, as the office workers, Jane Anderson and Gina Rogak flesh out Mamet's small compass with considerable skills and control.

The compass is small, minute. Through one's imagination the slight story is readily tied together and director Albert Takazauckas has spritely action for the honed, lean material. Such details as Michael Massee's design and George Quincy's ducky music are precise.

The laughter of empathy ripples through Mamet's words. With his uncanny hearing, Mamet's need now is for wider vision. He is a playwright worth listening to at this early stage of a career which just might broaden into a wide, adventurous river.