Directed with perfect timing by Neil Pepe, the play follows a down-at-the-heels acting troupe as it chases gigs and keeps one step ahead of the landlord. The running gag is the amorous interest that almost every character—all of them male—takes in young Philius, the troupe's handsome but talent-free boy apprentice. This time Mamet is not out to make points about power, greed, or sex (gay or straight); he just wants to tickle our funny bone.
Brian Murray and John Pankow are like an ancient Roman Laurel and Hardy as the pompous actor Strabo and his second banana Pelargon. Michael Cassidy makes an attractive Philius and gets a good deal of comic mileage out of his character's lack of acting skill, declaiming odes with total cluelessness. Veterans Jack Wallace and J.J. Johnston have wondrous deadpans as a grizzled fortune teller and an army captain. As a fiery commander not unlike Milos Glorious in "Forum," Jordan Lage is appropriately fierce, particularly as he sports costume designer Ilona Somogyi's armored breastplate, complete with nipple rings.
The program begins with the brief two-hander "School," a mildly amusing dialogue between school administrators debating the usefulness of having students make hundreds of posters advocating the conservation of paper. We're in more familiar Mamet territory here, as words are twisted and tossed like boomerangs, only to circle back on the throwers. Pankow and Rod McLachlan make the most of this short, sharp curtain raiser.
At 85 minutes, these two unrelated plays are full of laughs, and that's not a bad bargain these days.
Presented by and at Atlantic Theater Company 330 W. 20th St., NYC. Sept. 30–Nov. 1. Tue.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 3 and 7 p.m. (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com. Casting by Telsey + Company.