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.)