Bay Express, June 14, 1996
in the company's season of first works is an atypical Mamet. Those looking
for the epithet-studded male underworld of later classics like Glengarry
Glen Ross or American Buffalo may not be satisfied with the
bickering writers of Squirrels. What links Squirrels to
the Mamet we all know and love is its focus on language, and the verbal
acrobatics of high and low diction. In Squirrels, however, the
quirks of contemporary speech provide both form and content. The play
is the story of Arthur, a deluded hack who has been working on the same
paragraph for fifteen years, and Edmond, the fledgling writer he has hired
as a secretary-cum-ego booster. Together they form a satire of bad writing
everywhere, with Arthur's flamboyant redundancy clashing with Edmond's
mediocre melodrama. The play is a ninety-minute powerhouse of tongue twisters
and status games - hilarious and thought-provoking. The Shotgun Players
do a masterful job, especially Kevin Karrick's bombastic Arthur and Judy
Phillips' no-bullshit cleaning woman. Patrick Dooley's direction is tight
and insightful, managing to keep both the pace high and the nuances clear.
All in all, fantastic. As Arthur says, can you beat that with a large
stick? I think not.
Contra Costa Times , June 24, 1996
who has ever sat down to write a great work of fiction knows just how
frustrating it can be to find those elusive, perfect words. If you want
to console yourself on your lack of facility with language, the Shotgun
Players' desperately funny production of David Mamet's Squirrels
at the dark and cozy La Val's Subterranean Theatre in Berkeley just might
do the trick.
Directed by Patrick Dooley, the play pitilessly portrays the life of Arthur
(Kevin Karrick), a middle-aged, egotistical writer caught in the relentless
grip of writer's block. Not your garden-variety, cliché-ridden
writer's block, either. Arthur, it seems, has spent the past 15 years
working on the first line of a story involving a man's encounter with
He sums up his efforts at one point, saying, 'Man sees squirrel. Squirrel
bites man. Man kills squirrel. From nothing, to nothing.' There you have
It hardly seems enough on which to build an 80-minute performance. After
all, how much can you really say about a squirrel? Not surprisingly, Mamet
has found plenty.
In order to free himself from his decade-and-a-half rut, Arthur hires
a young assistant, Edmond (Moukie Mehr), who after many futile attempts
to find meaning and purpose in the aforementioned critter, becomes equally
mired in Arthur's creative abyss. The back-and-forth between Edmond and
Arthur is painfully amusing as each outdoes the other in developing increasingly
ridiculous scenarios for the story.
Mamet has often been accused of being a misogynist, but perhaps the strongest
character in Squirrels is the cleaning woman (Judy Phillips), who
is also an aspiring writer. She is fond of Arthur, but has long since
tired of his pretensions and knows just how to put him in his place.
Early in the play, it is her stories that seem the most promising and
alive; however, they, too, ultimately bog down in banality. All of the
characters try desperately to write about life, but seem to have given
up living it.
Arthur, Edmond and the cleaning woman grip tenaciously to the past, and
to each other, rather than moving forward. Preparing for the future is
seemingly not in their plans.
Although this is Mamet's first play, there is already evidence of the
clever wording and edgy humor for which he has become famous. And while
the circular and at times confounding dialogue occasionally borders on
being repetitive, Mamet's verbal gymnastics fill it with enough twists
and turns that it always remains engaging.
The play would not be nearly as captivating and fun without such an excellent
cast. Phillips, Karrick and Mehr are superb. Breathing life and humor
into Mamet's staccato bursts of dialogue, they deftly capture the script's
irony and deadpan absurdity.
You might think that the only thing worse than having writer's block would
be to spend an evening watching others similarly afflicted. With this
production, it's an entirely enjoyable event.