Both David Mamet and Lanford Wilson, two playwrights whose work on and off Broadway began to win accolades in the 1970s, use overlapping dialogue, hyper-realistic language and poetic profanity in creating the stark, emotionally explosive worlds of their plays.
That's where comparisons end, however. Mamet's plays (American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, Race) for the most part carry a gleefully straightforward cynicism, while Wilson (Hot l Baltimore, Fifth of July, Talley's Folly) layers a more overt sense of sentimentality and compassion.
Either way, their plays represent a challenge for actors, which is why so many stage performers relish the chance to tackle the works of Mamet and Wilson.
"This has definitely been a tough project for my actors," says director Susan Packer, whose production of Mamet's 1976 one-act The Duck Variations runs side-by-side this month with Lanford Wilson's 1964 short play The Madness of Lady Bright. The double feature runs through Feb. 10 at Pegasus Theater in Rio Nido.
"The way to tackle this kind of writing, as a performer," explains Packer, "is to really spend time mapping it out. There is usually a primary speech, with another character interjecting. It takes lots and lots of practice, but it's so much fun."
In Duck Variations, Frank Ferris and Scott Kersnar play two elderly men who meet each day in the park, talking about their lives and views of the world, using the behavior of the ducks in a nearby pond to illustrate their opinions. "It's very poignant and funny," says Packer. "It's a tale of aging and loneliness, written with that blend of comedy and drama that Mamet is so good at."
In The Madness of Lady Bright, directed by Darlene Kersnar, another look at aging and loneliness is presented as a once-glamorous drag queen, played by John Rowan, grapples with the ghosts of her past, played by Rachel Custer and Conor O'Shaughnessy.
"Lady Bright is desperate for a sense of connection with someone, anyone," says Kersnar, who's directed a number of Wilson's other plays in the past. "The walls of her apartment are covered in the signatures of people who've visited, which is a really powerful idea."
Like Duck Variations, Kersnar says, Lady Bright is a play about how people deal with the passage of time, for good or bad.
"In 45 minutes," she says, "this little play covers a lot of emotional territory. I think it will surprise people."