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Mamet's 'Squirrels' May Drive You A Little Nuts

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There’s a reason why we haven’t heard much about David Mamet’s 1974 one-act Squirrels. While it has its comic moments, the play doesn’t pack the literary punch of Mamet’s better known work like Oleanna, Glengarry Glen Ross or Sexual Perversity in Chicago. (Some die-hard Mamet fans might even make a case for The Unit on CBS, which Mamet created.)

In a nutshell, Squirrels focuses on Arthur’s (Oscar Don Smith) writer’s block, and his attempt to get the creative juices flowing with the help of (at first) eager protégé Edmond (Ben Messmer), and the saucy cleaning woman, played to the hilt by Vicki Lewis (best known for her stint as Beth on NewsRadio).

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We find out from the get-go that Arthur is a hack. What gives it away? The opening line of his tome: “A man walks into the park to feed the squirrels.” He’s obsessed with these squirrels as the guides out of the creative drought to the promised land.

The play drips of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot – where nothing much happens – but in this case, instead of leading viewers to think about the possibilities of God, the tedium of life's existence, the focus is on unblocking creativity by way of these bushy-tailed little beasts. We laughed along with the audience when an exasperated Edmond yells at Arthur: “I’m sick of the squirrels!”

Directed Travis Hammer, the director squeezes the most out of his actors: Lewis nearly steals the show with her zingers, trying in vain to bring creativity to a duo that painfully lacks it. Think of Lewis's muse as a Red Bull to the writers' Thrifty-brand vodka. We can also feel Messmer’s pain in dealing with a boss who really doesn’t know what he’s doing, but yet doesn't have the talent to go much further on his own accord.

The office set looks modern – maybe a little too much – for a play that takes place in a 1974. It seems too sterile, too clean and too brightly lit for a writer (and we know many offices and writing spaces we can cite as proof). Even Messmer’s ’70s look with the sideburns and mustache only reminded us of Jason Lee on My Name is Earl.

Squirrels
Runs Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM until April 29
The Miles Memorial Playhouse
1130 Lincoln Blvd.
Santa Monica
Free Parking at 808 Wilshire Blvd. (entrance on Lincoln)
Tickets: $15-$37.50
www.squirrelsbymamet.com