Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Water Engine"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark


"The Water Engine"

by David Mamet
Directed by Stephen Benson

Scenic Design by David J. Miller
Lighting Design by Nathaniel Packard
Spund Design by Michael Dalby
Porperties by Robert Astyk
Costume Design by Amanda Mujica
Stage Manager Margaret Benson

Lang............................Gideon Banner
Rita...............................Angela Meade
Gross.........................Will MacDonald
Oberman...............................Ken Flott
Wallace.............................Bill Doscher
Bernie...............Jonathan Randell Silver
Murray.................................Tom Berry
Murray's Secretary....Michelle Aguillon
Mrs. Varec.......................Mikki Lipsey
Sound Man........................Paul Barrett

In this Pet Brick production, David Mamet's "The Water Engine" begins as it was originally intended in 1976 --- as a radio play. Nine actors and a sound-man slowly assemble, looking over scripts, to do a broadcast from the Hall of Science at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago, 1934. Old friends and new acquaintances meet and interact in a long dumb-show covered by excellent jazz, and then begin a somewhat poetic, episodic anthology of paeans to science, out of which a story gradually emerges. As it does, the scene slowly transforms from the radio studio to the locales in the story itself, shedding the tall microphones and the carefully crafted sound-cues in favor of ever more serious confrontations.

In radio, quick changes of voice could multiply nine actors into twice as many characters, with brief phrases ("Going up!" for an elevator) and quick sounds (a roller-skate making the elevator door close) sending them out into a virtual city-scape. Eventually, the characters are left on a totally bare stage, miming actions clarified by sounds. The whole show takes an hour and a quarter, and inhabits a fascinating half-world all its own.

The story unfolds out of a collage of clever old jokes, lengthy quotes from a chain-letter about good and bad fortunes, and eventually tells an old urban-legend of an inventor wanting to patent a new machine that runs on tap-water, and the odd reactions of two patent-attorneys whose services he seeks. The resultant clash is eerily suspenseful and subtly understated. To tell more would spoil everything.

This is a typical Pet Brick Production, clear and unhurried in pacing, finely honed in every detail. Amanda Mujica's costumes fit solidly in the period, as do Robert Astyk's props and even hair-do's. And whether standing around the mikes reading from scripts, or walking through their empty landscape living the story, all ten actors hit precisely the tone Director Stephen Benson has intended. A toss of a head, an instant staring at a woman's legs, a frightened catch in a distraught throat --- such telling details are precisely orchestrated.

I must admit here that I grew up with radio drama, and fully intended as I began as an English major in college to spend my life writing Serious Drama for Radio much the way Norman Corwin did --- until, in 1952, drama of any kind left radio forever as top-40 took over. But I don't think it's only for me that this brooding, oddly told story fascinates. See it for yourself and see if you don't agree.

Love,
===Anon.


"The Water Engine" (till 1 October)
PET BRICK PRODUCTIONS
Tremont Theatre, Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617)824-8000
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