Playwright David Mamet's scabrous "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" receives a cue-ball-hard production at Downstage in the Ensemble Studio Theater.
Verbally riotous when it's not a sobering look at relationships in the making and breaking, the play can deliver a vigorous blow to one's self-containment in the matters of lust and love.
And director John Widlock and his four players convey the necessary sting. The vignettes of interlocking scenic material, separated by blackouts, cunningly use blunt force to nourish a sense of audience identity (particularly in the case of straight males one step removed from Studs Lonigan).
Absorbing only an hour in the playing, the production's flash point is John Cardona's cocky, sexually caustic Bernie Litko. Nominally sophisticated men would call this character a caricature, but Bernie strikes a disturbingly resonant chord. And Cardona doesn't hold in a thing.
Bernie's less abrasive buddy Danny, smoother at masking the same sexual insecurities, is believably rendered by John Lansing.
The sexual surprise in the play is not gross machismo but the realization that the two girl roommates, one of whom moves out for a heterosexual relationship, have been lovers. The bisexual girl, in a deceptively ordinary-appearing performance by Deborah White, off-handedly admits in bed to boyfriend Danny that she's tried women "and liked it." Actor Lansing responds with a wonderful dead pause as his hand instinctively rises off the girl's shoulders.
Sue Giosa's snarly man-hater is hard as a formica table top. Giosa can be funny and persuasive in a single breath, as during her hilarious encounter with Cardona's Mr. Jockstrap.
On a timely note, Mamet's play, now a decade old, is the loose inspiration for a movie, which opens early next month. The movie has a sanitized title ("About Last Night . . . ") and the two girls are straight, not gay, which, of course, is a different story.
Performances at 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., ending July 12; (213) 466-2916.