Works in search of cohesion, balance

Burning House Group’s production of short plays has fun with the enigma of Mamet’s words

by Steven Snyder

Something about “No One Will Be Immune’s” performance at the Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater seems perfectly appropriate, finding a natural balance between space, performers and text.

The theater, located only feet from restaurant booths, a bar and crashing bowling balls, has the feel of a workshop space. It is the type of intimate performance environment that has suffered so that national tours can play venues such as the Ordway and monopolize the minds and wallets of curious theatergoers.

But here, things feel more organic, as if the work and the players have something greater than money on their minds.

Into this venue comes 11 short pieces from sparing playwright David Mamet.

Mamet’s plays feel like works in search of cohesion and balance. To listen to his instantly identifiable, ambiguous dialogue, or to see a film based on his screenplays (“Spartan,” “Hannibal”) is to encounter a series of riddles and surprises wrapped so tightly that the fun is found in simply watching things unwind back to the point of sanity.

Perhaps this is what makes “No One Will Be Immune” that much more delicious:

We get to see this process repeat itself, over and over again. In some sense, this serves as a Mamet workshop, capturing how he confuses the audiences in the early moments only to reel them back in at the end.

Most of the works are extremely short, approximately five minutes, and vary in tone from whimsical, humorous bantering to heart-wrenching, emotional monologues. The most captivating of the works might also be the most obtuse. Two people waiting for a subway exchange bursts of small talk, until one becomes concerned that the questions are becoming too personal.

Here, humor digresses into suspicion and frustration.

The tenth piece in the series is the longest, running closer to 15 or 20 minutes, and is quintessential Mamet. It evolves from a discussion about aliens to one of plane crashes, destiny, social norms and finally returns to where we came in. And jumping between these themes, it is as disturbing, involving, emotional and bizarre as Mamet gets.

In all these pieces, there is a moment of personal revelation or self-discovery. Whereas most plays’ storylines build to an explosive climax, Mamet’s dialogue builds to a moment of simple clarity, in which the truth behind this story and these people is finally revealed.

Given this focus on mystery, Matt Guidry and Ally Baker deserve kudos for their brave and lively performances. Guidry consistently plays the more animated of the two-character pieces, propelling the story as Baker focuses on reactions.

But they remain committed and often succeed at speaking to each other while really conveying nothing at all. They run in place, as Mamet demands, but with an interesting variety and intensity of running styles.

Given the limitations of the space, incorporating Jeff Toffler’s music into the play itself is another nice addition. There might only be three performers in the production, all from the local Burning House Group, but this never keeps “Immune” from feeling lively and on the move.