The Woods and Reunion

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

14/04/2008 - 19/04/2008

Production Details

The NZ professional premiere of The Woods and Reunion by David Mamet.

The two one act plays from the early seventies display the characteristic control of language which has made Mamet one of America’s leading playwrights.

In The Woods, Ruth and Nick, two young Americans at what may be the beginning of a longer relationship (or maybe not), escape for a weekend at Nick’s family cabin near Chicago. Over the course of 12 hours and 3 scenes the apparently inconsequential chit-chat transforms into a classic battle or the sexes as each character attempts to shape the encounter to their agendas.

Reunion is the story of Carol and Bernie. Bernie, a 53 year old W.W.II veteran struggling to maintain order to his chaotic life, is visited by his daughter after being apart for over 20 years. Steadfastly working class, Bernie regales Carol, now firmly embedded in middle-class culture, with stories of his life she perhaps would rather not know. Reunion is vintage Mamet and he manages to take what is, at its core, a tragic story and provide a surface of rapid fire comedy as the characters struggle towards a new accommodation for their renewed friendship.

The Basement 14-19 April 7.30pm (2pm on 19 April)

When: Monday, 14 April 2008 – Saturday, 19 April 2008
Starts: 7:30pm
Where: Classic Basement: Lower Greys Ave, Auckland CBD
Cost: Adult:  $25.00 

Designed by Matt Klienhans

Featuring: Amy Waller, Andrew Munro and Mick Innes 

Young performers shine in early Mamet works

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 22nd Apr 2008

Two rarely performed plays from the 1970s offer a stark introduction to the verbal pyrotechnics of one of America’s most highly regarded writers.

The Woods and Re-union were both written in the early stages of Mamet’s career before he achieved stardom with Glengarry Glen Ross and penned the acclaimed screenplays for an eclectic range of movies that include Wag the Dog and the Brian de Palma version of The Untouchables. [More]
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Gritty sociological exposition

Review by Nik Smythe 15th Apr 2008

The Woods is the tale of a cold, wet night and morning after, shared between Nick (Andrew Munro) and Ruth (Amy Waller) at Nick’s late father’s cabin by a lake in the woods somewhere near Chicago.  Opening on Nick looking blankly out on the lake to the laconic strains of a world-weary jazz tune about ‘leavin’ town’, his total lack of expression implies a time bomb of emotion beneath the surface.

Ruth enters: bubbly, exuberant and cheerful, rapt with the joy and wonder of life in the woods and constantly trying to encourage Nick to share stories about his younger days.  Munro’s Nick is still, positively numb with negative thoughts.  When he speaks it’s in a surreal monotone, admittedly a tad too surreal for me to really believe the character. 

The artistic objective is clear enough – profound repression bordering on psychosis, that kind of thing.  However the contrast between Nick’s exaggerated robotic character and Ruth’s far more naturalistic one makes them almost seem like they’re in two different plays.

In contrast to The Woods‘ dreamy slow-jazz house music and intro, Reunion opens appropriately with the sardonic crushed-idealism rantings of William Burroughs, as Bernie (Mick Innes) clumsily ties his black tie in anticipation of the arrival of his daughter Carol (Waller again), coming to visit him for the first time in twenty years. 

Bernie himself is a 53 year old ex-alcoholic war veteran who works in a restaurant, though his actual job isn’t specified.  As he and Carol catch up the estrangement and tension is very much at the surface which, while initially threatening, ultimately makes Reunion the more optimistic of the two plays.

Indeed, the tensions between the two characters in each play may have similar kinds of origins but they are very different relationships, and very different types of communication.  The strained dysfunctionality of Ruth and Nick has them frequently skirting around their deeper issues until it inevitably comes to a head.  In contrast, while Bernie and his estranged daughter clearly have significant baggage, they are straight up with each other on every level from the start. 

It’s this difference that makes Reunion a more idealistic tale, one where the players not only express themselves freely, but also listen to each other. 

The design of Matt Kleinhans successfully encapsulates the relative forms of claustrophobia that pervade both plays.  The basic set for both shows comprises one insipidly orange checked wallpapered wall and one plain one, and a smallish square of wooden decking.  This has only two old wooden deck chairs added to complete the set for The Woods, while a smaller square of ratty carpet and meager old furnishings transport us to Bernie’s humble dwelling for Reunion.

In summary: veteran theatrician Stuart Devenie has directed a very capable cast in two classic Mamets from the seventies, although both were new to me personally.  Not for the faint hearted or patrons seeking mindless bubblegum entertainment, these are searing and gritty expositions on the varying pitfalls of our closest relationships.  There are many questions raised and precious few if any definitive answers provided. 

That is in fact what I love about this kind of theatre – the onus is on the otherwise passive audience to reflect the stories on their own lives and decipher their own solutions.  As the theory goes, experience is our best teacher, meaning any solution we arrive at ourselves is learned more profoundly than any externally provided information.  

Notes on the often controversial subject of accents:  The various American dialects were mostly very competent.  As Nick, Munro’s downbeat Chicago accent borders on a laconic drawl that had me thinking he was southern at first before working out where the story was located.  Waller’s Ruth is something of a valley girl with a Californian accent that only slipped a few times fleetingly, usually in moments of extreme emotion.  I found her Chicago dialect more seamless as Carol in Reunion.  Innes’ Bernie is of the classic Chicago gangster-style vernacular, and whilst his accent probably falters the most (say about 90% accurate), his energy and openhearted honesty make him the most believable character of the night. 

Personally I’m not so hung up as some others on the odd slipped vowel in locally produced foreign works, provided the strength of character and direction is able to cover for it.  I’d rather that than a show with unfaultable accents and nothing else.
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