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The wanton desire of the very old Strabo for the very young and naive Phillius (Michael Cassidy) goes from being in keeping with the ancient Roman setting to verging on the creepy. If the lust had been returned by the boy, or even acknowledged by him, it might not have seemed so wrong. But the sexual charge remains completely one-sided, with Strabo even going so far as to acknowledge the fact that the boy has no talent and is only around because he's easy on the eyes, enforcing the voyeuristic notion of the old man who just likes to watch
. The problem, really, is that for a play very concerned with sexuality, Pantheon
contributes nothing new to its portrayal one way or the other, but merely plays on the lust of an old man for a boy for laughs. In Roman tales of old there are of course examples of this and it was quite acceptable, but in the contemporary context this recurring joke cheapens the play and makes it a bit more awkward to watch.
Clearly, gay jokes about ancient Romans will play well to a certain kind of audience and sell tickets, but I really think Mamet relied on this too much, which in turn took away from the crux and truly deft part of his play about acting. Keep Your Pantheon
is an empathetic journey for any stage actor who has ever had a rival get a part over them; missed a chance to land a lucrative role or get the starring part because some information arrived too late; peaked early and loves to bring up the good ole days; or has just plain felt like all was lost and had to remember why they wanted to act in the first place. It's an anthem for the wonderful artists who populate today's theater and a well executed homage to how hard these players work and the little thanks they get for it. As the play follows Strabo's troupe through a botched performance, which puts their heads very literally on the chopping block, to his heartfelt pleading for their lives, to the misery and despair portrayed by the troupe as they learn that their rivals stole their gig, Mamet takes the viewer through the paces and emotions of making a living in theater. The question of motivation (and more importantly, sincerity) is also raised, and one sees the battle being waged within Strabo between love of the craft and the art, and the desire for fame and money.
Both actors and "normal people" can immediately appreciate the troupe's circumstances in Keep Your Pantheon
and commiserate with missed opportunity and the quest for success, but it is not until the last moment that Mamet seems to offer us any opinion on the subject other than to show us how it is. As the play closes the audience learns, rather abruptly, that Strabo has given up the tutelage of his young lust object so he can get the money to go to a festival, and has instead set the boy up for a new career in, of all things, real estate. Upon hearing this news, the drunk in the background, who laid motionless until then, springs to his feet and screams: "In this market?!" The audience laughs, of course, but it seems almost out of habit (trying to go into that business right now is funny, right?) rather than actual comic effect. At the haphazard mention of the boy's new profession (another failed actor) I thought of Glengarry
, and wondered if Mamet hadn't thrown the last joke in there to remind us what he's capable of, even though these two quick plays fall a little short.
(photo credit: Ari Mintz)