The Shawl | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Shawl 

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THE SHAWL, Found Theater Company, at Pi Gallery. No playwright is more fascinated with the art of the con than David Mamet, and The Shawl is one of his most intriguing explorations of that theme. This 1985 one-act concerns a gay psychic named John; his emotionally repressed client Miss A; and Charles, a rough-trade drifter with whom John is involved. Is John clairvoyant or a charlatan, and how cognizant is he of whatever psychic powers he may possess? These questions emerge as John and Charles seek to help Miss A reclaim her late mother's fortune--or swindle her out of it--by staging a seance.

Structuring his play like an episode of TV's old Alfred Hitchcock Hour (all that's missing are commercials between the four scenes), Mamet generates suspense with cryptic, often fragmented dialogue--the verbal equivalent of Hitchcock's eerie camera work. The Found Theater's sensitive ensemble interplay and Mamet's twisting plot and compelling script make this production worth an audience's attention, though to achieve its full effect the play requires more precise timing and articulation than these players manage. Ann Koons is appropriately anxious as Miss A, but Jim York lacks the threatening tension needed to portray the potentially dangerous Charles. Dan Halstead is interesting but slightly too mannered as the enigmatic John, and as the show's director as well as leading actor he's overextended: Mamet's plays require a director who can devote his full attention to textual nuances without having to worry about his own performance.

--Albert Williams

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