Puzzling Out Mamet

Some of the production's limitations aren't Zigler's fault; they're built in. It's no easy task for a child actor to take on Mamet's dialogue. Jimmy Fanelli, as John, knows what he's saying. He's also a responsive listener. He deserves praise that the play is intelligible. But he's unable to make John seem so importunate that he might well be neurotic. A type of bright that's on the cusp of instability, John should be an uncomfortable, troubling boy, traumatized and victimized, perhaps as much by himself as by others; Fanelli, however, is too literal in his line readings. The immature John calls for a mature performance; for better and worse, Fanelli goes back and forth.

Neither he nor Kathleen O'Grady as Donny show sufficiently the burden of being a newly broken family. This might be pardonable in Fanelli's case; it isn't in O'Grady's. Only at the end does she find the shock and anger her set-upon character requires. In the last act she's so intensely distraught that she almost erases the memory of the ill-advised histrionics that serve as her performance's foundation in earlier scenes. She'll grow into the role, I think. And her exchanges with Fanelli are oddly stirring throughout; she's both maternal and chilly, available and remote, suggesting unsettlingly that her character leaves something to be desired.

Avuncular with John and cagey with Donny, Michael De Vries' Del is out for himself and yet wishes he weren't. His is a fine line between self-interest and self-loathing. Would that this skillful actor conveyed Del's homosexuality; by neglecting to shade the character's sexuality, De Vries muddles some of Mamet's intricacies.

"In reality," Del observes at one point, "things unfold independent of our fears of them." This is exactly what happens with the Alley's production of Mamet's play.

The Cryptogram plays through April 7 on the Neuhaus Arena Stage at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue, 228-8421.

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