If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, David Mamet should be wildly flattered by "Busboy," a new play by T. J. Edwards that the Source Theatre is presenting in the Resource through Feb. 23. The rest of us can only hope that Edwards, who is not ungifted as a playwright, will soon move into territory he can rightfully call his own.
All he has done in "Busboy" is spin a variation on Mamet's "American Buffalo," which, you may recall, concerned three lower-class losers plotting a robbery that was destined never to come off. "Busboy" concerns three losers plotting a presidential assassination that is equally doomed to failure. Like Mamet's characters, Edwards' poor bumblers talk a blue streak of redundancies, mangled cliche's and profanities scraped off the street, all the while convincing themselves they are getting to the heart of the matter.
But the strong subtext that redeems Mamet's play -- for all their talk, his creatures are prisoners of language, condemned by their ultimate inarticulateness -- is far less vivid in "Busboy." Although Mamet's dialogue gives the impression of being tape recorded, it is, in fact, ruthlessly edited. Edwards is still at the stage where he is putting entirely too much down on paper.
Edwards' would-be assassins are: a busboy at a Polynesian restaurant (William Hollingsworth), whose true calling is repairing refrigerators; a bespectacled intellectual (Teman Treadway), who holds a PhD, apparently in philosophy, although he can't hold on to a job; and his brother (Ernie Meier), a total loon who has ambitions to be one of the great chefs, but is so fearful of "particles" in the air that a gas mask is part of his kitchen uniform along with an apron. By planting a bomb in a cake and trotting it off to the Polynesian restaurant, these three plan to kill the president in the name of all the downtrodden of the world. But it is abundantly clear, as they hone their feeble plans, that the act is really just an outlet for their own frustrations and inadequacies.
Director Pat Murphy Sheehy and one of the better casts Source has marshaled in recent months lend some liveliness and humor, if less credibility, to the proceedings. As the dim but affable busboy, Hollingsworth has the sort of appeal that Art Carney projected on "The Honeymooners," including a similar bray. Treadway and Meier are not so well served by their roles; the one is as possessed with mad philosophy as the other is overburdened with culinary dreams. But I appreciated both actors' attempts to exercise some restraint. I also liked Antonio Melian's contribution as a Salvadoran dishwasher, recruited as a member of this assassination team even though he doesn't understand a word of English.
As part of their training, painters sometimes copy the masters. So I suppose there's nothing wrong with Edwards writing a David Mamet play as part of his training. The time to sit up and take notice, however, will come when Edwards writes a T. J. Edwards play.
BUSBOY. By T. J. Edwards. Directed by Pat Murphy Sheehy. Set, Stephen Hayes. With William Hollingsworth, Teman Treadway, Ernie Meier, Antonio Melian. At the Resource through Feb. 23.