Sexual Perversity in Chicago Analysis

David Mamet

The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sexual Perversity in Chicago opens as Bernard is telling his best friend Dan about a recent sexual adventure. Bernard’s story is unrelated to the play’s plot, but it does establish the play’s thematic motif: men, women, and sex. This first scene also presents Bernard and Dan’s relationship as that of experienced man-of-the-world to relative neophyte and establishes some of David Mamet’s stylistic trademarks—a discovery of the poetic rhythms of everyday speech, an abundance of obscenities, and a nonreflective, give-and-take dialogue. The next scene introduces the play’s two female characters, Joan and Deborah. Their relationship is similar to the Bernard and Dan relationship. Joan is jaded, bitter, and full of advice concerning men, while Deborah by comparison seems naïve and hopeful. Their first scene is only five lines long and portrays their confusion as to what it is men really want. The audience, however, has been given the answer to that question in the preceding scene—men want wild sexual adventures with no commitment.

Thus begins a montage of scenes involving Bernard, Dan, Joan, and Deborah, singularly and in various combinations. Plot—what there is of it—is subservient to character and thematic explorations. Mamet is not as interested in his story as he is in why the story happens. What one might perceive as the play’s plot—Deborah and Dan meet, sleep together, move in together, fall in love, fall out of love, and separate—takes only seven of the play’s thirty-four scenes. Fully twice as many scenes are exclusively male, as Bernard and Dan talk about women, and Deborah has as many scenes with Joan as she does with Dan. The play’s story seems really to be about the relationship between the male characters and how it affects Deborah and Dan’s romance, with a second story being about how the female relationship is affected by the romance. The least important (though catalytic) story seems...

(The entire section is 796 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sexual Perversity in Chicago has a running time of approximately fifty-five minutes. Despite this relatively short length, the play has thirty-four separate scenes which make use of thirteen different settings in the city of Chicago, including a health club, a library, an art museum, a restaurant, and a pornographic movie theater. Mamet does not make linear time connections between most of the scenes. For example, the scene in which Dan moves Deborah’s belongings out of Joan’s apartment is followed not by a scene in which he moves Deborah’s belongings into his apartment, but rather by a totally unrelated monologue by Bernard concerning the Equal Rights Amendment. Emotional or thematic connections take place in the psyche of the individual audience member, but are not apparent in the psyches of the characters.

Twenty of the play’s scenes are self-contained; that is, they do not advance the play’s plot because they make no reference to what occurred in previous scenes, nor do they provide information used or repeated in scenes that follow. Most of the play’s scenes, then, could be placed anywhere in the script—the play does not have a logical structure, save for the seven scenes which present Dan and Deborah’s relationship from first meeting to final dissolution. Mamet clearly uses a dramatic device—structure—to support the play’s content. The multitude of scenes juxtaposed in alogical ways in unrelated settings creates a...

(The entire section is 520 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Bigsby, C. W. E. David Mamet. London: Methuen, 1985.

Carroll, Dennis. David Mamet. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.

Dean, Anne. David Mamet: Language as Dramatic Action. Teaneck, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990.

Duberman, Martin. “The Great Gray Way.” Harper’s Magazine, May, 1978, 79-80, 83-87.

Kane, Leslie, ed. David Mamet: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1991.

Lahr, John. “David Mamet.” In Show and Tell. Woodstock, New York: Overlook, 2000.

Savran, David. “David Mamet.” In In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988.

Storey, Robert. “The Making of David Mamet.” Hollin’s Critic 16 (October, 1979): 1-11.