Confidence Men / Start Trekkin'
Improvised Mamet as sharp and fast as gunfire; Trek a bit slow getting to warp speed
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Sept. 11, 2009
Confidence Men/Start Trekkin'
Salvage Vanguard Theater
The idea of a double bill featuring a David Mamet play and an episode of Star Trek seems to make about as much sense as chasing Chivas Regal with Cherry Coke. Hardly logical, Captain.
But as this is the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival, unorthodox pairings are the order of the day and can often yield inspired results. More importantly, it means the double bill in question features not the original dramatic works but freshly minted versions, invented on the spot by improvisers practiced at tapping the tropes of Trek and Mamet for comic effect. So the match's kooky incongruity could work to the show's benefit – especially if it led to, say, Klingon salesmen trying to unload some worthless Raatooras real estate on gullible Starfleet commanders.
Alas, no such mash-up found its way into OOB's pairing of Start Trekkin', the hit inspired by the Original Series, now in its fourth year, and Confidence Men, the riff on Mamet that debuted in June. Still, the material mined from the shows' sources yielded plenty of pleasures, from a miniskirted Starfleet Academy cadet muscling her way into the captain's chair to two macho Mamet men admiring a catfish's impressive mustache.
Confidence Men started by delivering that kick you always hope to get from improv: Dialogue so smooth, interplay so effortless, you couldn't believe the scene hadn't been rehearsed. It was clear that the show's six actors knew there's more to Mamet than dropping f-bombs every other word. These wise guys proved to be intimately familiar with Mamet's oeuvre, with its stresses on commerce, salesmanship, masculinity; its urbane niceties of conversation and abrupt eruptions into testosterone-fueled rages; the mundane language against which a carefully chosen word stands in high relief; and, of course, those crucial rhythms: the staccato beats, fuguelike repetitions of phrase, jagged pauses, and edgy interruptions. All were in full display in their drama, drawn from the suggestion "aquarium," with the opening byplay as Jeff Britt's assistant manager informed a Mantegna-smooth Asaf Ronen and Troy Miller as his mensch of an associate that the building wasn't open and they had to leave was a beautifully played bit of Mamet pastiche, sharp and fast as mob gunfire. The show lost a little edge as the players pushed to resolve a plot, but it never stopped firing off sharp lines, such as, "This is how men do business about fish."
After that serving of bloody rare sirloin, Start Trekkin' was a lemon parfait, so light as to be almost weightless. And yet it was also more earthbound than its terrestrial predecessor. The cast took its cue from Trek's recent big-screen reboot, playing a crew of Starfleet newbies with all the youthful angst and steamy hookups of a soap on the CW. The ensemble milked the amped-up hormones and insecurities for good laughs but had trouble settling on a plot and a central character or two that could propel the scenes forward. You don't want to lean on Shatner impressions or Vulcan catchphrases for a show like this, but just as a savvy Mamet spoof needs those themes of business and male dominance, a savvy Trek spoof needs strong characters like Kirk and Spock, if not them specifically. The fact that when Kaci Beeler's "pretty face" cadet took command, the show took off at warp speed seemed to support that principle. I expect this crew's next voyage to run much more smoothly. But while we're waiting, Glengarry Glen Romulan, anyone?