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STAGE REVIEW : ‘Perversity’ Is No Laughing Matter : Irvine Community Theatre has a good cast in a respectable production. But there’s little funny in this Mamet ‘comedy.’

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The program notes for the Irvine Community Theatre’s presentation of “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” call it “hilarious” and aggressively underscore the definition of David Mamet’s oft-produced play as a “comedy.” There were not many laughs Saturday night, although director Tom Titus has assembled an attractive and able cast in a respectable production.

Mamet’s work is legendary for its use of four-letter words. The relentless vulgarity of his scripts has been lauded as being true to life, and no doubt in some social circles, this is true. Many directors, Titus among them, have warned their audiences to “come to the play with an open mind,” the assumption being that naughty language will offend, close ears and kill laughs.

But it’s not raw language that kills the laughs in “Sexual Perversity.” In this dark tale of love frustrated by jealousy and ignorance, there really isn’t much to laugh about. The protagonist, Danny, played by Marc Hart, metamorphoses from budding lover to foulmouthed misogynist under the tutelage of his loathsome, manipulative associate, Bernie (Phillip Ramsey). Danny’s rejected sweetheart, Deborah (Lauren Kelly), retreats to the solace of her destructive, lonely roommate, Joan (Gail Godown.) The story is told in a series of relatively short scenes, the dialogue of which is characterized by Mamet’s amazing ear for modern conversation.

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It’s not easy to care about these four lost souls. Bernie’s offensiveness exhausts any sympathy for his unhappy state of infantile self-delusion, and Joan is a gargoyle of uptightness. Danny and Deborah succumb unquestioningly to the insidious suggestions of their friends that love is a delusion, that women like to be treated badly and that men are best avoided.

It may be that a production playing more to the unspoken in the relationships would unearth more laughs, but the territory is mighty treacherous. Director Titus and his company don’t fully investigate the subtext of jealousy and desperation that drive the play like an invisible, foul wind, but they fulfill the surface of the script admirably. Hart in particular maintains a bemused innocence that lends a sense of loss to Danny’s descent into piggishness.

‘SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO’

An Irvine Community Theatre production of David Mamet’s play. Directed by Tom Titus. With Marc Hart, Phillip Ramsey, Lauren Kelly and Gail Godown. Performances Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at Turtle Rock Community Park clubhouse, 1 Sunnyhill, Irvine. Tickets: $5, general; $4, seniors. (714) 857-5496.

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