The title of a play, more often than not, is one of the more important choices an author makes. "Dolly: That Damned Exasperating Woman," for example, is not nearly as likely to bring in the crowds as "Hello, Dolly!" -- which did.
"Sexual Perversity in Chicago" is a title guaranteed to provoke curiosity, at the very least. But in this instance, it's a case of the title outdoing the play. "Sexual Perversity," as the current showcase production at Garvin's Laugh Inn reveals, is not really a play, but a collection of blackout sketches loosely strung together with continuing characters. It's basically another dispatch from the war between the sexes, this time in Chicago. The vernacular is that of the liberated '70s, as two men and two women stumble through attempts to find sex and love, in that order.
Danny, a young man, is influenced by his older colleague, Bernie, a foul-mouthed sexual cowboy who never tires of describing his ever-escalating exploits but doesn't once appear with a girlfriend. Danny tries to pick up Deborah in a museum; she tells him she's a lesbian. "As a physical preference or as a political belief?" he asks. They end up dating, falling in love, moving in together and breaking up -- the predictable cycle of the modern airhead.
As a play, "Sexual Perversity" doesn't really stand up. As a nightclub act, it is acceptable, a one-hour amusement that reflects a layer of our sociology. Playwright David Mamet -- this was one of his first plays -- could not figure out how to end a scene, or make a transition from one scene to the other, or end the play as a whole. The characters are engaging and the dialogue is lively and involving--but the play simply ends with a blackout, a frustrating and self-defeating exercise.
It must be said that the show lives up to its name in the sense that the talk is quite dirty: There are more four-letter words than in a high school bathroom. But it is saved from grossness by a sense of laughing at itself, and the language is clearly a reflection of the barrenness of the characters' minds rather than a cheap effort to titillate.
Garvin's production is an Equity Showcase, which means the performances are commendable while the sets, props and costumes are negligible. Garvin's is a nightclub, not an inappropriate venue for this show, which is not much disturbed by working waiters and kitchen noise. The cast and director Mark A. Marple have recognized stereotypes for what they are and have given a properly farcical interpretation to the proceedings.
"Sexual Perversity in Chicago," by David Mamet; directed by Mark A. Marple; with Kevin Murray, Robert Fass, Dori Salois and Lorraine Pollack.
At Garvin's Laugh Inn through through Dec. 17.