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Lakeboat

Outlined by a long string of pearls and her signature black bobbed helmet, silent screen star Louise Brooks materializes like a torch in the sassy hands of actress and co-writer Pamela Shafer.

With:
Joe ... Ed O'Neill Fred ... Jack Wallace Collins ... George Wendt Skippy ... Ron Dean Fireman ... Vincent Guastaferro Stan ... J.J. Johnson Pierman ... Ian Patrick Williams (Dan Lauria plays Joe on Fridays) The Tiffany, in its two theaters, is presenting two plays that bookend David Mamet's career. "Oleanna," his latest work, suggests a talent in decline (Daily Variety, Feb. 7). "Lakeboat," which dates from the 1970s, suggests a young talent discovering his own voice. It's relatively minor Mamet, but it holds up quite well, and the production -- directed by Mamet's longtime friend and artistic collaborator Joe Mantegna -- is about as good as can be imagined. Indeed, Mantegna has assembled and honed the best ensemble cast seen in a Los Angeles theater in some time. This plotless, impressionistic play consists of a series of vignettes and monologues. Its aim is to give the audience a taste of life aboard the freighters that haul ore around the Great Lakes -- a taste Mamet experienced first-hand as a young man. Indeed, one of the characters, a college student named Dale, is clearly a stand-in for the author. This production emphasizes that fact by casting Mamet's young half-brother Tony in the role. Dale mainly listens as the veteran sailors talk among themselves or spin stories about their lives. Some are predictable tales of sexual virility, full of alternately amusing and off-putting macho posturing. But others surprise. Joe (Ed O' Neill), who has been on the ship longer than Dale has been alive, gets more and more comfortable talking to his young colleague until he is able to discuss, in touching detail, his suicide attempt and his long-lost hope to be a dancer. It's a lovely scene, and O'Neill beautifully conveys Joe's vulnerability. What is perhaps most striking about the play today is the relative lack of tension among the men working in this difficult environment. There is a surprising civility to their encounters. One wonders whether it is still there among their successors. Mamet's dialogue is sharp and funny, if not as rapid-fire as it would become in his later plays. Mantegna thoroughly understands his writing, and he coaxes finely modulated performances out of his entire cast. It's a credit to all of the actors that no one stands out. All of them manage to be amusing while keeping their characters firmly grounded in emotional reality. The set is appropriately simple; it consists of a series of platforms against a black-and-gray sky. That leaves it to Robert Mellette's sound design to convey the ambience of the ship -- a task it performs to perfection. O'Neill, it should be noted, is replaced by Dan Lauria for the Friday night performances; that's his taping night for "Married ... With Children." Such are the unique challenges of staging theater in Los Angeles.

Lakeboat

(Tiffany Theatre, West Hollywood; 99 capacity; $ 25 top)

Production: Big World Entertainment, in association with Andrew S. Florsheim and William B. Barnett, presents a play by David Mamet. Directed by Joe Mantegna. Set and costumes, John Paoletti; lighting design, Geoffrey Bushor; sound design, Robert Mellette. Co-produced by Laura Stockman, F. Daniel Somrack. Opened Feb. 24, 1994 ; reviewed Feb.26; runs through March 13.

Cast: Joe ... Ed O'Neill Fred ... Jack Wallace Collins ... George Wendt Skippy ... Ron Dean Fireman ... Vincent Guastaferro Stan ... J.J. Johnson Pierman ... Ian Patrick Williams (Dan Lauria plays Joe on Fridays) The Tiffany, in its two theaters, is presenting two plays that bookend David Mamet's career. "Oleanna," his latest work, suggests a talent in decline (Daily Variety, Feb. 7). "Lakeboat," which dates from the 1970s, suggests a young talent discovering his own voice. It's relatively minor Mamet, but it holds up quite well, and the production -- directed by Mamet's longtime friend and artistic collaborator Joe Mantegna -- is about as good as can be imagined. Indeed, Mantegna has assembled and honed the best ensemble cast seen in a Los Angeles theater in some time. This plotless, impressionistic play consists of a series of vignettes and monologues. Its aim is to give the audience a taste of life aboard the freighters that haul ore around the Great Lakes -- a taste Mamet experienced first-hand as a young man. Indeed, one of the characters, a college student named Dale, is clearly a stand-in for the author. This production emphasizes that fact by casting Mamet's young half-brother Tony in the role. Dale mainly listens as the veteran sailors talk among themselves or spin stories about their lives. Some are predictable tales of sexual virility, full of alternately amusing and off-putting macho posturing. But others surprise. Joe (Ed O' Neill), who has been on the ship longer than Dale has been alive, gets more and more comfortable talking to his young colleague until he is able to discuss, in touching detail, his suicide attempt and his long-lost hope to be a dancer. It's a lovely scene, and O'Neill beautifully conveys Joe's vulnerability. What is perhaps most striking about the play today is the relative lack of tension among the men working in this difficult environment. There is a surprising civility to their encounters. One wonders whether it is still there among their successors. Mamet's dialogue is sharp and funny, if not as rapid-fire as it would become in his later plays. Mantegna thoroughly understands his writing, and he coaxes finely modulated performances out of his entire cast. It's a credit to all of the actors that no one stands out. All of them manage to be amusing while keeping their characters firmly grounded in emotional reality. The set is appropriately simple; it consists of a series of platforms against a black-and-gray sky. That leaves it to Robert Mellette's sound design to convey the ambience of the ship -- a task it performs to perfection. O'Neill, it should be noted, is replaced by Dan Lauria for the Friday night performances; that's his taping night for "Married ... With Children." Such are the unique challenges of staging theater in Los Angeles.

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