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Wednesday, 30 January 2013 20:00

'Mrs. Sorken' and 'The Duck Variations': A light look at the heavy subject of age

Written by Tina Farmer
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'Mrs. Sorken' and 'The Duck Variations': A light look at the heavy subject of age

The Mustard Seed Theater's current production, "Mrs. Sorken" and "The Duck Variations," features two short pieces presented in a fast-paced and quickly executed evening of theater. The engaging cast, complemented by an appropriately nondescript set and technical design, are seasoned veterans who inhabit their characters with a light, cheery touch and deft sense of timing.

The show opens with Christopher Durang's curtain raiser, "Mrs. Sorken."

Played with an open friendliness by Peggy Billo, Mrs. Sorken offers the audience her opinions on theater with a well-paced delivery and local references that give the script a fresh, off-the-cuff feel. St. Louis theater companies would, in fact, be well advised to take a tip or two from the humor and brevity of this script when planning their next curtain speech.

As Mrs. Sorken, Billo's matter-of-fact patter held my focus, and her east-coast influenced accent was clearly a nod to Mr. Durang's native New Jersey. She managed to create a character that immediately conveyed a sense of intimacy with the audience, a friendly, somewhat nosy woman who doesn't always connect ideas in a conventional manner, but generally leaves everyone smiling.

David Mamet's "The Duck Variations," is the second piece in this short evening of theater.

In many ways, this one act is certainly atypical of my view of David Mamet; after all, there's not a single f-bomb in the whole script. What we have, instead, is an overheard conversation between two gentlemen nearing the end of their lives. Contemplative without ever feeling reverential or self-aggrandizing, it's a conversation that hints at--but won't directly confront--aging, loneliness and death.

Actors Bobby Miller and Richard Lewis each handled their performances well, creating two distinct gentlemen: the rumpled, loud and slightly unfocused George and the fastidiously well-dressed and proper Emil. I immediately recognized them as an older and wiser interpretation of the prototypical "odd couple."

This familiarity was aptly reinforced by Emma Bruntrager's costume design. George's bucket-style fishing hat, loose jacket and Birkenstocks (with socks) suited his boisterous style just as well as Emil's fitted cardigan, pressed slacks and neatly folded paper suited his more refined persona.

Both actors brought a realistic portrayal of aging to the stage. Their characters were filled with habitual mannerisms and expressions developed over a long friendship, as well as the frustrating conflict of feeling still vibrant and alive, yet somehow out-of-place in the world. Their verbal sparring, physical affectations and shared concern felt genuine, like two older men I may have passed on my last walk through the park.

All three actors responded well to both the material and the audience, walking right up to the line of caricature without crossing it too far, a credit to the actors and director, Deanna Jent. George's stubborn insistence on the facts of his story momentarily reminded me of Mrs. Sorken from the curtain raiser, helping to provide a nice, subtle connection between the two pieces, which I assume Jent intended.

The two-part show is enjoyable, and fast-paced, and director Jent clearly chose to emphasize the humor in the scripts. The set, lighting and sound effects were all subtle, but present, and the background chirping and honking of the birds in Kareem Deanes' sound design was a particularly effective touch.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable production, although I would have preferred the actors to dig deeper into the nuances of the script. Like a pleasant appetizer before dinner, the production left me wanting for a little more substance.

If a light evening's entertainment appeals to your tastes, I encourage you to catch "Mrs. Sorken" and "The Duck Variations." Running through February 10th, with performances at 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays and a 2pm matinee on Sundays. For more information, visit or call 314-719-8060.

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