Puzzling Evidence 

Shotgun Players pick on David Mamet again with The Cryptogram.

Shotgun Players started in 1991 with Patrick Dooley directing David Mamet's Edmond at La Val's Subterranean, and the company has returned to Mamet periodically ever since, most recently in 2000 with The Water Engine and Mr. Happiness. Now Dooley takes on the playwright's intriguing 1994 play The Cryptogram.

It's a short play, wrapped up in eighty minutes without intermission, although in truth it seems to be more interested in unraveling loose ends than in tying them up. Set in a living room in 1959, the play refers often to the clutter in the attic, but even more often it alludes elliptically to events long ago of which we never get a clear picture. A photograph on the table leads to a long discussion of trying to figure out when it could have possibly been taken, because the details don't add up.

The Cryptogram is like a jigsaw puzzle for which many pieces have been swallowed by the vacuum cleaner long ago. The secrets are so deeply hidden, and yet referred to so often, that it's hard not to imagine far darker and more elaborate scenarios than the ones that eventually emerge.

The cast appears to be a simple family unit: a man, a woman, and a child. As Del, Kevin Clarke sports nerdy specs, rigid hair, and a kindly yet awkwardly formal air, so much the model of the '50s patriarch that you expect him to have a pipe clenched between his teeth. It quickly emerges that Del is not in fact the boy's father, although it takes a while to determine just who the heck he is. The father is absent, leaving young John to ask over and over again when he's coming home.

Dooley's production is well paced, taking its time when it needs to. Lisa Clark's set combines sleek modern decor with period details such as an impressively ugly plaid couch. Christine Cook provides elegantly simple dresses and a variety of V-neck sweaters for Del's shirt collars to poke through.

The cast handles Mamet's rapid-fire sentences and interrupted fragments deftly, if not quite so naturally that one ceases to be aware of them. Zehra Berkman gives mother Donny great poise and dignity that gives the action added punch when the cracks begin to show. Seventh grader Gideon Lazarus is an alert presence as ten-year-old John, always in pajamas, who can't sleep for obsessing over increasingly large questions, from the whereabouts of his father to whether anything exists.

Just as John asks questions for which there are no answers, or as Del is always looking for the right word and never finding it, Cryptogram is a curious little tidbit of a play that raises many mysteries but keeps most of them mysterious.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments will be removed.

Latest in Theater

Author Archives

  • Good Grief

    Town Hall's Rabbit Hole grapples with loss.
    • Feb 18, 2009
  • The Feminine Mecanique

    Berkeley Rep on early adopters of the vibrator.
    • Feb 11, 2009
  • More»

Arts & Culture Blogs

Most Popular Stories

Special Reports

The Beer Issue 2020

The Decade in Review

The events and trends that shaped the Teens.

Best of the East Bay


© 2020 Telegraph Media    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation