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BWW Reviews: Mamet's GHOST STORIES Provides Little Chill

The two one-acts that make up the bill Atlantic Theater Company presents as Ghost Stories aren't exactly the kind of fare audiences are accustomed to when they think of David Mamet. Strutting misogynist males and scatological dialogue are set aside here for attempts at spine-tingling atmospheres.

Unfortunately, director Scott Zigler's tiring production, though handsomely designed by Lauren Helpern (set), Linda Cho (costumes) and Jeff Croiter (lights), doesn't make a strong case for either piece's effectiveness at setting a haunting mood.

The curtain-raiser, Prarie du Chien, originally premiered in 1979 as a radio play. The setting is 1910, in the parlor car of night train traveling to Duluth. A pair of gentlemen (Nate Dendy and Jim Frangione) passes the time playing gin on one side while on the other a storyteller (Jordan Lage) has the attention of a fellow traveler with a tale of jealousy, revenge and murder.

His lengthy monologues make up a large bulk of the play, but Lage's unamplified voice was barely audible the evening I attended, an issue that caused several audience members to lodge complaints during intermission. The softness of his speech coupled with the repetitive rhythms of his delivery made for a tedious beginning.

The second half's The Shawl, first staged in 1985, concerns a charlatan clairvoyant (Arliss Howard), who uses a healthy balance of research, deductive thinking and guesswork to gain the confidence of a customer (Mary McCann) who is deciding whether or not to dispute her mother's will. Scenes alternate between their sessions and the psychic's explanation of his methods to his young lover (Jason Ritter).

The setup of Prarie du Chien forces Zigler's staging to be rather stagnant for the evening's first half, but things don't liven up much for act two. Though certainly more involved, The Shawl looks lackadaisically mounted. Add some extremely low-key acting and Ghost Stories would seem more effective as bedtime stories.

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