Mamet is often compared to Harold Pinter, and it’s true that, besides sharing membership in a mutual admiration society, the two playwriting giants both favor elliptical rhetorical strategies that stress economy and menace. Yet there is one crucial difference: If you read the dialogue in most Pinter plays without knowing which character is speaking, you still have a pretty good chance of identifying individual voices; remove the character names from a Mamet script and all you can imagine is a room full of William H. Macys.
You may not leave the Geffen with a full stomach — this time less really is less, and we get no sense of having done anything but briefly eavesdropped on a few aggravated characters. Perhaps it’s best to regard these plays as opposite ends of a telescope: For 10-year-old John, its eyepiece reveals the future as a big, frightening horizon; looking through the other end, Bobby Gould can only view life pastward, a pinpoint of light too small to reveal details. The implication of this bill is that when we glimpse these two versions of destiny, we are either too young or too old for them to be of use to us. For this reason alone, we suspect that Mamet’s birthday is going to fall on a particularly cold November day.