The Old Neighborhood
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by David Allen

Aurora Theatre in Berkeley opens its 12th season with The Old Neighborhood by David Mamet. Set in the author’s hometown of Chicago, this drama is a trilogy including: The Disappearance of the Jews, Jolly and Deeny. The three short plays have Bobby Gould (Michael Santo) as their common character. After many years away Gould returns to Chicago to visit family and old friends.

In The Disappearance of the Jews, Gould visits with his school buddy Joey (Ron Kaell). In many ways it’s a down to earth get together of two friends talking about old girlfriends over a few drinks. But what strikes you the most is the language in this and the other short plays. The conversations are very Chicago, not only in accent but content and in what the characters try to say but can’t quite articulate. There’s a pulse to every phrase that feels like poetry but not like Shakespeare. It’s more like Mamet recognizing a natural verse in the rawness of his character’s language and disjointed thoughts and letting it immerge.

This natural flow sometimes takes some surprising turns like when Gould asks about Joey’s wife and family, and Joey admits that sometimes he feels he could kill them or simply walk away and not miss them in the least. Or when Gould tells Joey of someone that told him that the Jews have been oppressed for so long that perhaps they brought it on themselves. Since both Joey and Gould are Jewish, Joey goes on and on about how he can’t believe someone could say that. Then Gould quietly says, “It got me thinking.”

In all three plays Gould is the quiet one, letting the other characters do most of the talking. It’s an interesting technique that works well in The Old Neighborhood. “The purpose of any technique, the purpose of any skill which is learned through cognition and repetition in the arts, or in sports for that matter, is to breakdown the barriers between the conscious and the unconscious mind so that you don’t have to think about what you’re doing,” Mamet said in an interview with Arthur Hohnberg. “You can only be free if your unconscious is unfettered… (We) need a technique to enable us to get out of our own way.” Since the character of Gould is perhaps the most autobiographical of any of Mamet’s dramatic characters, this technique allows the author enough distance “to get out of (his) own way.”

In Jolly, the longest play in the trilogy, Gould simply listens as his sister Jolly (Amy Resnick) rants and raves about their family and the difficulties of growing up in an emotionally abusive household. Resnick does a fantastic job of depicting Mamet’s most disjointed character in this trilogy. Once again we learn more about Gould through listening to Jolly’s ravings about their childhood and family.

In Deeny, the final sequence of the trilogy, Gould meets his old girlfriend Deeny, and she does most of the talking. She talks in a strange, calm frenzy like someone meeting a long lost love, knowing all the time that he only came to say goodbye again. She speaks of their life as a sorrow of years that turns itself into a ceremony and then she asks him in a telling way that you’ve come to say goodbye, haven’t you? Whereupon the man of few words says “goodbye love” once again insuring that his unconscious is unfettered.

This is a must see for Mamet fans, but I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this unique portrayal of life. Aurora’s cast delivers memorable portraits of characters that will unfetter your unconscious.

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