Keep Your Pantheon / School

  • Date:
    September 1, 2009
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall


    A review by Tulis McCall

    This evening is part twisted, serious thought, and part homage to Brian Murray and what might have been had he played the Pseudolus in Something Happened on the Way to the Forum. An odd paring at the very least.

    The first act gives us the pleasure of watching John Pankow and Rod McLachlan flying without a net into the open jaws of the Green Movement. (I recently saw a video interview with Robert Redford as part of the book Sixty in which he said that the worst thing that could happen to us all would be for everyone to �go green.� Seems as though Mamet agrees.

    Reminiscent of "Who's on First"1938, Abbott and Costello, School is a conversation between two grammar school faculty, identified as A and B. They begin with the fact that there are posters plastered all over the school with the slogan "I will save the planet by using recycled paper." So many posters compromise the message, even though they make the students, who created the slogan, feel great. The ensuing conversation begins to spiral like a dynamo, pulling with it information on the bombing of Dresden, the definition of history, the difference between Custodians and Janitors, the nature of matter, the sexual preference of the crossing guard and the possible life-span of recycled goods, closing in on itself until we are all trapped in the absurdity of viral enthusiasm. Sublime meets Ridiculous, and we are pulled in because there is nowhere else we want to be.

    Keep Your Pantheon is the tale of an acting troupe in Rome, run by Strabo (Brian Murray), whose pockets are empty and whose destiny is dubious. Filled with slapstick and foolishness, the play sallies forth and follows the path of one grand coincidence after another. This is an acting troupe that lives by its wits as well as talents, which are in their own estimation, considerable. When they mistake one house for another, their performance is so enormously wrong that they are imprisoned by the Tenth African Legion. It is here that the �Ichor of Imagination� pulsing through Strabo�s veins shifts into high gear. In short order � and I mean really short order � the troupe hops through hoops that would make your head spin. Torture�s variations line up like fullbacks and Strabo manages to avoid being taken down.

    Brian Murray has been given permission to chew up the scenery, and he pretty much does, which is not so bad because the language is plump and his delivery is glorious in overblownmanship. He has an especially poignant monologue on acting that reminded me the �I am an actor� monologue W.S. Gilbert. These are actors living by their wits, and every performer in the audience will empathize.

    The rest of the cast has else has not a heck of a lot to do, and they do it well, except for Philius (Michael Cassidy) whose few brain cells are fully occupied by living his life as a series of tiny monologues. His appearances onstage are painful in all ways excellent.

    Of the two, my money is on School. It is one of those complete plays that can't be any longer because the absurdity spins itself out in short order. Pankow and McLachlan are on their game. And what will be even better is if, over time, these two actors are be allowed to breath in between lines. I don't know how it came to be that David Mamet's dialogue is delivered at the speed of a Gatling Gun. It isn't in the play's directions. Maybe it's in his contract. But it is someplace, because that is how his plays, well, play. This rich, encompassing dialogue would benefit if the pedal were not to the metal wed for the entire scene. Even in a horse race, there is variation in the rhythm of the run.

    As to the pairing � who knows about that either? It almost seems like Mamet wrote School, offered it to Atlantic Theatre Company, and then searched around for something to fill out the evening. With Pantheon added, the evening is roughly 80 minutes. And here we are.

    Entire civilizations have been based on lesser stuff.

    Tulis McCall


    What the press had to say.....

    "If 'School' finds Mr. Mamet speaking his own comic language with flying fluency, 'Keep Your Pantheon,' the longer part of the show..., feels oddly ersatz"
    Ben Brantley
    New York Times

    "IF these flimsy one-act plays weren't by David Mamet, they probably wouldn't have been produced"
    Elisabeth Vincentelli
    New York Post

    "the 75-minute evening has a lot to be modest about, although, to be fair, it does have its funny moments."
    Robert Feldberg
    The Record

    "slight but funny comedies"
    Michael Kuchwara
    Associated Press

    "an amuse-bouche that goes down easily enough but leaves little aftertaste"
    David Rooney
    Variety