David Mamet first achieved notoriety with his 1974 dark comedy Sexual Perversity in Chicago. Its profanity and cynical view of relationships was shocking at the time, but 26 years later, it feels about as titillating as a 1950s pinup poster. Director Michael Serna updates the play to 1999, an updating that really doesn't really work, but works well enough.
The one-hour play hurries through the shallow relationships of four singles living in Chicago: a junior office executive, his colleague, a kindergarten teacher and her commercial-artist roommate. Filled with Mamet's Biting Wit™ and his stinging commentary on gender and sexual clichs, the play is structured as a series of vignettes, each ending abruptly in a blackout.
Aside from the profanity, this play is apparently less risqu than an Ally McBeal episode. The real perversity is more subterranean, in the hollow obsessions with sexuality and the stunted emotional development of the characters. Energetic performances abound, but breathing genuine life into such one-dimensional, shallow characters is a thankless task. Serna's snappy, well-executed direction aptly captures the rushed nature of these characters' lives, an effect amplified by the set, a just-get-enough-to-get-by design that reflects the characters' sterility.
But there's certainly a great asshole, Bernard, played by Ryan Jacobson, whose sense of comic timing captures the essence of his character and that of the play.
SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGo at six Chairs N A Couple of Artists theater, 1409 E. 4th St., Long Beach, (310) 226-7075. Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. $12-$15.