The Duck Variations and Sexual Perversity in Chicago
Ghost & Spice Theatre at Common Ground Theatre
Through April 19

Why have David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago and The Duck Variations been paired together so often? On the surface, the two one-act plays bear little resemblance, save for their use of blackouts as scene transitions. Nonetheless, Ghost & Spice’s production of the two plays at Common Ground Theatre helps illustrate the similarities that lurk beneath the surfaces of these two seemingly disparate works.

The Duck Variations, which opens this production, presents a series of “variations” on a conversation between George (Jordan Smith) and Emil (David Ring), as they observe ducks in the park. The piece contains almost no action and only the merest semblance of a plot, but veteran Triangle actors Smith and Ring have such a solid grasp of Mamet’s staccato dialogue that the energy stays high throughout their time on stage. Their relaxed body language and easy chemistry illuminate their characters’ inarticulate-but-profound observations, such as “Everything that lives must sweat,” which are comic and ultimately poignant.

Sexual Perversity is both darker and more elaborate, dealing with the bitterness of the singles scene. Set in the leisure-suit days of 1976, with period songs punctuating many of the scenes, it tells of two sets of friends, Bernie and Danny (Carl Martin and Jeffrey Scott Detwiler) and Deborah and Joan (Tracey Coppedge and Rachel Klem). Their lives collide when Danny and Deborah begin seeing each other, which prompts would-be womanizer Bernie and romantic burn-out Joan to each offer their own destructive support.

As Bernie, one of Mamet’s most gloriously misogynistic characters, Martin radiates a raw comic and malevolent presence. Clad in a too-tight business suit reminiscent of Chris Farley’s motivational speaker character from Saturday Night Live (and occasionally a Speedo), he gets to the heart of the combination of braggadocio and resentment at Bernie’s core. Klem, mostly clad in black-and-white outfits, has a particularly difficult character to work with, but gives a comic snap to her line readings, particularly in the scenes where Joan, a teacher, deals with her grade school class. As the couple, Coppedge and Detwiler are better when they’re breaking up than when they’re together, but do an excellent job of communicating how their friends influence their romantic interactions.

The production uses the absolute bare minimum of props to create Mamet’s worlds, but the effect gives the two plays a unique sense of synchronicity. You feel as though George and Emil might be older and slightly wiser versions of Danny and Bernie, still sitting around discussing things they barely understand. Perhaps that’s why the plays are paired together so often; it’s to give the audience a double dose of sweet and sour. Zack Smith

Dinner With A Legend: The Music of Sam Cooke
N.C. Theatre at Rat Pack Lounge
Through April 26

Nestled in Glenwood South’s intimate Rat Pack Lounge, four tuxedoed musicians warm up the crowd as Broadway performer Darrian Ford takes the floor. Dressed in a white polyester suit, Ford grabs the ’50s-style mic and announces that the “legend tonight is Sam Cooke, honey.” Ford then tears into the upbeat “Twisting the Night Away,” revealing a voice fully capable of interpreting Cooke’s catalog with care.

N.C. Theatre promotes the event as an evening of retro chic that zaps lucky audience members back to the 1960s heyday of the apotheosized Rat Pack. However, the lounge underwhelms, offering patrons superficial style more akin to Raleigh’s homogenous nightlife scene than the savoir faire of Dean Martin and company. Ford boasts an ephemeral (at best) resemblance to the “Man Who Invented Soul,” and does not evoke Cooke’s cool and easy charisma. Throughout the evening, Ford seems hemmed in by the simplicity of the personality he is trying to mimic. He seems most genuine while amiably hectoring the crowd to sing, and in one wholly unexpected moment during “Frankie and Johnny,” he acts out some of the lyrics, mimicking a sassy older woman instead of singing the lines. Otherwise, there is a disconnect between the pleasantness of hearing Cooke’s songs performed well and Ford’s forced impersonation.

Throughout, Ford feeds the audience bits of information about Cooke’s life, attempting to enthusiastically segue between songs, but the patter feels manufactured and the information is superficial. For instance, before “Fool’s Paradise,” Ford tells the audience that Cooke declined to listen to advice that he should slow down his life and take better care of himselfnothing that couldn’t be gathered from listening to the song’s lyrics. Elsewhere, on a screen behind the band, images of Cooke are altered by odd technical effectsin one a black “X” appears on Cooke’s forehead like a fierce wound and expands, bringing with it another image.

Still, all this aside, the evening is a worthwhile outing for anyone with some money to throw down (at $140 per couple for dinner and a show, or $20 per person at the 10 p.m. “cocktail” show), if only for the rarity of a dinner/ show experience in the Triangle and the joy of hearing these classic songs live. Megan Stein