The laboratory of the ongoing Capital Fringe Festival yields a fizzled experiment with David Mamet’s rarely seen “Lakeboat,” says Celia Wren.


Little is shipshape about “Lakeboat,” the Imperial Theatre Live rendering of an early David Mamet play. The production has an impressive pedigree: Director Raoul Anderson was part of the play’s incubation, acting in a 1970 staging that Mamet himself oversaw at Vermont’s Marlboro College. Despite that seeming advantage, this “Lakeboat” is so low-energy, with acting for the most part so steadily ranging between adequacy and amateurishness, that watching the show gives one a sinking feeling.

The play’s nearly plotless narrative unfurls on a merchant ship plying the Great Lakes. Working on board for the summer, a young student named Dale rubs shoulders with hard-bitten, cranky crew members, who squabble, philosophize, indulge in foul-mouthed chitchat and occasionally spout off in obliquely revelatory monologues.

Moving amid the scattered props and furniture (a steering wheel, chairs, rope coils, etc.) that depict various parts of the boat, Jesse Milliner turns in an agreeably poised (if arguably too laid-back) performance as Dale. And Brendan Berndt is watchable and energetic as Stan, an aggressive, sexist seaman who creates a mood of improbable poignancy when he recalls a reconciliation with a lover.

The production does not benefit from the casting of actress Damia Torhagen in the role of Fred, a misogynistic male seaman who recalls, at length, how abusing women improved his sex life. While the impulse to subvert Mamet’s macho vibe is understandable, the performance comes across as artificial and awkward. By contrast, Patricia Williams Dugueye is relatively plausible as Collins, the ship’s exasperatedly businesslike second mate (another role originally written for a male actor).

The cast also includes Peter Sweet, Allen Saslaw, LJ Moses and — in another bit of gender-blind casting — Lorrie Smith Saito as the Pierman. Even the show’s better performances don’t compensate for the slack scene transitions and overall aura of sluggishness — flaws that obscure how the play’s components fit together.

— Celia Wren

100 minutes. July 19, 21 and 23 at the Sprenger, Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE.

IF YOU GO: Fringe tickets $17, plus one-time purchase of a $7 Fringe button. Available online at, 866-811-4111 and at Fringe venues.

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