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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Sexual Perversity In Chicago
Comedy Theatre      Spring-Summer 2003

Predictably, this vehicle for Hollywood luminaries Matthew Perry and Minnie Driver has drawn a hail of brickbats from the critics. In a way the damning reviews are right, but I'd still recommend going.

At first glance, and certainly for the first ten minutes, neither play nor performers appear to have discernable charm. David Mamet's study of changing sexual mores in early seventies urban America may have a snappy title but it was written in 1974 and shows its age in clunky dialogue that almost parodies his more streamlined later work.

Perry at first struggles woodenly to be a Mamet stage clone macho and ethnic at the same time -- while Driver does a passable imitation of one of those walnut hatstands every hallway used to have.

And then something magical happens. The audience starts laughing. Things start to click and, in particular, Perry finds his stride even if this is a result of him giving in to the inevitable and reverting to the Chandlerisms of his character from TV's Friends.

His bemused Danny becomes a poised foil for Hank Azaria's Bernard who bigmouths his fictitious sexual exploits wherever anyone will listen.

Meanwhile Kelly Reilly's demure Deborah somehow attracts Danny and the awkward relationship provokes the simmering wrath of Driver's Joan -- hell hath no fury like a flatmate spurned.

Neatly framing the vignettes with a slick, primary colours set, the producers and director Lindsay Posner know exactly what they are doing.

American Azaria and home-grown Brit Reilly (last seen in The Graduate) are clearly their secret weapons, skilled all-round performers who provide magnificent, generous support to their stars.

And if Driver fails to set the stage alight, in the main it is because her character is relentlessly underwritten. The others get all the good lines while she visibly struggles with Mamet's one-dimensional material, and we are all no better off by the end in understanding whether Joan is a highly-charged symbol of empowerment or a mere wallflower.

In a bizarre way, Sexual Perversity is theatrical proof that two negatives (clunky play, wooden actors) make a glowing positive.

I enjoyed this tremendously, found myself discovering unexpected angles and humour in the dialogue and, looking around the captivated audience, I figured maybe a good 80 per cent had never seen a Mamet before. That's one way of getting bums on seats that I for one won't complain about.

Nick Awde

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Review of  Sexual Perversity In Chicago - Comedy Theatre 2003
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