Spotlight: The Cryptogram

David Mamet's one-act show is a dramatic shell game. One moment you think you have your eyes on the pea, then the subtext beneath the action changes altogether, leaving you scrambling to reconsider the events in a new context. (It also leaves you writing convoluted sentences in trying to describe it all.) The setup is simple enough: Donny (Annie Enneking) is hanging fire with Del (Peter Ooley), waiting for her husband to return home and take her son John (Jake Ingbar) on a camping trip the next morning. The precise nature of Annie and Del's relationship is unclear; the fact that John can't seem to go to sleep adds to the tension. Also providing discomfort is Mamet's dialogue, a sadist's crop of sentence fragments, minutiae, and overlapping lines that leave the actors sounding like robots hopped up on diet pills. A letter appears at the end of the first scene, though, that clarifies matters somewhat, and the rest of the plot involves Donny's betrayal by her husband and Del. The action proceeds to unspool like the puzzle of the play's title, with a war-trophy knife taking on all manner of symbolic importance before things go well and truly to hell. Director Annelise Christ's cast tightens the screws and extracts a good deal of real emotion from this potentially sterile contraption. And fifth-grader Ingbar hangs in effectively amid a mountain of verbiage and a character whose nature is ultimately the final piece to the mystery. At an hour and 15 minutes, this Walking Shadow Theatre Company production delivers a coherent and entirely viewable take on a work of bleak cruelty. You don't walk out with a smile on your face, but you may have some realizations about your own tightrope walk, with chaos on one side and meaning on the other. Now, put the knife down, John. I'm serious.

 
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