×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Water Engine/Mr. Happiness

The Atlantic Theater Co. kicks off its season devoted to company co-founder David Mamet with a pair of the playwright's more unconventional works, the short solo play "Mr. Happiness" and the period one-acter "The Water Engine." While Bob Balaban gives a quietly mesmerizing performance in the haunting "Mr. Happiness," Karen Kohlhaas' production of "The Water Engine" doesn't make a strong case for this elusive, allusive play. The double bill will chiefly appeal to Mamet aficionados eager for a look at these infrequently staged pieces.

With:
Mr. Happiness ..... Bob Balaban Charles Lang ..... Steven Goldstein Rita ..... Mary McCann Morton Gross ..... Peter Jacobson Lawrence Oberman ..... Jordan Lang Gross' Secretary/ Mrs. Varec ..... Maryann Urbano Mr. Wallace ..... Peter Maloney Bernie ..... Carl J. Matusovich Dave Murray ..... Josh Stamberg Chainletter ..... Kelly Maurer Murray's Secretary ..... Maggie Kiley Ensemble/Sound Effects ..... Jody Lambert

The Atlantic Theater Co. kicks off its season devoted to company co-founder David Mamet with a pair of the playwright’s more unconventional works, the short solo play “Mr. Happiness” and the period one-acter “The Water Engine.” While Bob Balaban gives a quietly mesmerizing performance in the haunting “Mr. Happiness,” Karen Kohlhaas’ production of “The Water Engine” doesn’t make a strong case for this elusive, allusive play. The double bill will chiefly appeal to Mamet aficionados eager for a look at these infrequently staged pieces.

Both plays are infused with an affection for the days when radio was a dominant force in American culture. In “Mr. Happiness,” which was written to accompany the (brief) Broadway stand of “The Water Engine” in 1978, Balaban portrays a radio advice columnist softly dispatching words of encouragement and admonition to lonely listeners. His avuncular tone fuses the tender and the stern, the reproving and the supportive. The play casts an unsettling spell: Is Mr. Happiness a benevolent or malevolent force in the lives of his listeners? The homely, authentic heartaches that spill from the letters he reads make it a poignant, disturbing question.

“The Water Engine” is a thematically ambitious, stylistically audacious tribute to the dramas that once kept listeners rooted to their living room carpets night after night. Mamet’s conceit intriguingly fuses the imagination of the listener with the lives of the performers: We see the radio studio and the actors standing at microphones — with a single man hovering in the background providing all the sound effects — but we also see the drama as it might unfold in the mind of the audience, with the actors fully inhabiting their roles, seemingly ignorant of the dangling microphones.

The melodrama being enacted is a somewhat facile little parable about a man crushed by the powers of corporate interests. The time is 1933, the place Chicago, which is hosting the World’s Fair and celebrating the city’s centenary under the optimistic banner “A Century of Progress” (the words provide an ironic title for the action below in Walt Spangler’s sleek deco set).

Charles Lang (Steven Goldstein), a humble everyman who lives with his blind sister and works in a factory, seeks out a lawyer to help him patent his invention, an engine that runs on water alone. But the lawyer is allied with the interests of the mysterious powers for whom this miraculous invention would be financially disastrous (read corporate America), and Lang soon finds himself hunted by the police.

Mamet underscores his story with a variety of evocative touches — a woman promoting the life-saving powers of a chain letter, the rantings of anarchists in Chicago’s Bughouse Square — to create a kaleidoscopic, surrealistic picture of a particular time and place.

It’s an odd play, more style than substance, and thus requiring a perfect mastery of mood. Unfortunately Kohlhaas and her cast haven’t found the right blend of period authenticity and Mametian mysteriousness to keep it aloft. The writing, which is often as stylized as the concept, too often comes off as arch and aridly portentous. The effect is to expose the ponderousness of Mamet’s ironies about a culture that celebrates the idea of progress even as its rulers may seek to oppress the fact of it.

The Water Engine/Mr. Happiness

(ONE-ACT REVIVALS; ATLANTIC THEATER CO.; 165 SEATS; $ 40 TOP)

Production: NEW YORK An Atlantic Theater Co. presentation of two one-act plays by David Mamet. Directed by Karen Kohlhaas.

Crew: Sets, Walt Spangler; costumes, Rick Gradone; lighting, Robert Perry; sound, Andrew Keister; production stage manager, Alex Lyu Volckhausen. Opened Oct. 20, 1999. Reviewed Oct. 18. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

With: Mr. Happiness ..... Bob Balaban Charles Lang ..... Steven Goldstein Rita ..... Mary McCann Morton Gross ..... Peter Jacobson Lawrence Oberman ..... Jordan Lang Gross' Secretary/ Mrs. Varec ..... Maryann Urbano Mr. Wallace ..... Peter Maloney Bernie ..... Carl J. Matusovich Dave Murray ..... Josh Stamberg Chainletter ..... Kelly Maurer Murray's Secretary ..... Maggie Kiley Ensemble/Sound Effects ..... Jody Lambert

More Film

  • Tim Roth, Thierry Fremaux and Gaspar

    Tim Roth, Gaspar Noe Join Thierry Fremaux at Cannes Festival Cinema Week

    BUENOS AIRES — Kicking off with the Cannes Festival’s Palme d’Or winner, Hirokazu Kor-eda’s “Shoplifters,” and framing  multiple Cannes winners, the 10th Cannes Festival Cinema Week will feature a masterclass by Tim Roth, before a projection of “Reservoir Dogs,” and a presentation by Gaspar Noé of his Directors’ Fortnight hit “Climax.” Curated and M.C-ed by [...]

  • 'El Negro,' 'Continente,' 'Mussolini' Ventana Sur

    Ventana Sur: 'El Negro,' 'Continente,' 'Mussolini' at Filmar – Doc Factory Pitching Sessions

    Mauricio Fernando Minotti’s “El Negro,” Alejo Franzetti’s “El último continente” and Toia Bonino’s “Mussolini mi ha detto” figure among the 18 feature documentary projects selected for pitching at Ventana Sur’s Filmar – Doc Factory section. The event marks the final stage of Argentina’s INCAA Film Institute’s Incubadora, a six-month work process to develop documentary projects [...]

  • FilmSharks Snags International Rights To 'The

    FilmSharks Snags International Rights To 'The Adopters' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Argentine sales agency FilmSharks Intl. has inked international rights to “The Adopters,” a comedy production from Tomás Lipgot’s Buenos Aires-based Duermevela, Pablo Ingercher’s Oh My Gómez Films and Patricio Rabuffetti-founded Non Stop. A same-sex romantic comedy, “The Adopters” marks the second solo directorial effort of Argentine Daniel Gimelberg, who debuted with “Before” and co-directed “Hotel [...]

  • Korea Box Office Weekend: ‘Default’ Wins

    Korea Box Office: ‘Default’ Wins Again, ‘Nutcracker,’ 'Mortal Engines' Fail to Excite

    Korean-made financial drama, “Default” remained on top of the South Korean box office for the second consecutive weekend. The CJ Entertainment release earned $4.95 million from 631,200 admissions between Friday and Sunday for a total of $19.9 million after two weekends on release. “Bohemian Rhapsody” also remained in second. The Fox release earned $4.79 million [...]

  • Ventana Sur: Meikincine Picks Up ‘Just

    Ventana Sur: Meikincine Takes ‘Just Love,’ ‘Super Crazy’(EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Lucia and Julia Meik’s Buenos Aires boutique sales company Meikincine has acquired international sales rights to two of the more mainstream Argentine propositions at this year’s Ventana Sur: Andy Caballero and Diego Corsini’s “Just Love,” and “Re Loca,” the Argentine remake of Chile’s “Sin Filtro.” The “Re Loca” deal is for world [...]

  • Priyanka Chopra Variety Power of Women

    Ivanhoe Pictures Boards Priyanka Chopra’s ‘The Sky is Pink’

    “Crazy Rich Asians” producer Ivanhoe Pictures has come on board Priyanka Chopra’s family drama “The Sky Is Pink.” Ivanhoe will co-invest and co-produce. Fact-based, “Pink” is written and directed by top director Shonali Bose and is based on the life of motivational speaker Aisha Chaudhury. The film is Chopra’s first in India since her U.S. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content