The Cryptogram

By David Mametprofiles theatre

Directed by Joe Jahraus

At Profiles the Alley Stage, Chicago

“A cryptogram is a type of puzzle that consists of a short piece of encrypted text.”

Weird 70 minute drama yields a terrific performance by a twelve year old boy

In a baffling turn, Profiles Theatre has mounted David Mamet’s 1994 utterly perplexing drama – The Cryptogram. Even after doing copious research including reading Mamet’s comments on what The Cryptogram is about, I’m still baffled.

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Here is what I know: It is 1959 and Del (Darrell W. Cox), a nerdy man, is talking to a twelve year old boy, John (Aaron Lamm) who both looks younger and is forever asking questions about everything, especially when will his father come home so they can go camping? John can’t sleep due to anticipation of his adventure. John’s mother, Donny (Abigail Boucher) constantly tells John that his father will arrive home “anytime now.” But he never arrives.

Each time John alights from the upstairs staircase, he is filled with questions that both adults keep evading, speaking in code as in a cryptogram. John’s frustration increases as Del tries to distract and entertain the boy with vague games and unique comments. Donny impatiently demands John go to his room and sleep. John plays a game with Del based on some children’s book they both share.

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The tension builds from all the ‘Mamet-speak’ employed: many unfinished sentences and jabbing, repetitiveness intercepting, interrupted conversation….. The adults are repetitive to a fault, as is the boy when his stream of questions is not answered. These speech patterns quickly become annoying.  Gradually, John’s frustration at what the adults are keeping from him leads him to restlessness as he complains that he can’t sleep because he keeps hearing vices. Is that early symptoms of schizophrenia or merely overtired child-like fantasies?  John never learns the ‘coded’  secret that his father has left the family for another woman. I guess John’s innocence as a child starts to crash as his world becomes a mystery that frustrates him.

This gripping play is too manipulative and repetitive for my taste, but young Aaron Lamm’s sharp, intelligent, and empathetic performance may be the only reason to sit through the 70 minute Hitchcockian menace. I wonder why Profiles Theatre picked this play.  They have, over the last few years, mounted many terrific stage worthy plays.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

At Profiles Theatre’s Alley Stage, 4147 N. Broadway, Chic ago,IL,  call 773-549-1815, www.profilestheatre.org, tickets $35 – $40. seniors and students $5 off, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, running time is 70 minutes without intermission, through November 16, 2014