Review: With “The Duck Variations,” a new theater company makes a wonderful debut

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From the June 20, 2013 edition

Set aside for a moment the sheer joy of having Geoffrey Nelson, founder and longtime artistic director of CATCO, and Jonathan Putnam, one of that troupe’s most respected and beloved actors, back together again on the same stage.

Then set aside the thrill of seeing the birth of Nelson’s new low-tech touring company, the aptly named A Portable Theatre.

Concentrate instead on the delight of two veteran actors engaging in the verbal fisticuffs of 1972 vintage David Mamet, the one-act comedy “The Duck Variations.” This was Mamet’s second play and relatively mild in its language, but already you can hear the combative rhythms of the developing playwright. Comedic masters that they have proven themselves to be, Nelson and Putnam milk every line, every gesture, every interruption, every pause for its maximum effect.

Two elderly men meet during spring in an urban park overlooking a lake. They discuss life, death, pollution and the state of things. But the lake waterfowl keep grabbing their attention, with conversation constantly circling back to the feathered creatures. Frankly, these two guys have no idea what they’re talking about, spouting what can only be called canards with the greatest of authority: duck love, duck sweat, ducks in the food chain, duck succession planning. Yet in their often hilariously bird-brained ignorance, they occasionally stumble upon a profound human truth about their own places in the universe.

If “The Duck Variations” is any indication, APT promises to fulfill everything it’s quacked up to be.