Sexual Perversity in Chicago by David Mamet Research Proposal

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Sexual Perversity in Chicago

The play discussed below is David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago, written in 1974 and published by Grove Press. The play is set in Chicago, as the title states, though otherwise the city is not named and could be any large city today.

The characters are individualized but can also be seen as types representing classes of men and women in this case as part of the singles scene in the 1970s, though that scene has not changed that much since then. This is a long one-act play that unfolds as a series of scenes shifting to different locations around the city, a method that can be emphasized by changes in lighting and by the shift from one part of the stage to another as characters enter and take on different demeanors according to the nature of the scene. Most of the scenes are conversations between two characters, though a few are three-person scenes. The four characters develop early and then interact to show how in some ways they may be different than the audience believes at the outset.

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For the most part, the play represents one in a long line of plays about the battle of the sexes, exploring the state of the battle in the current era and suggesting that men and women still do not understand one another. The males in the play display a degree of macho posturing in their interplay with one another, with Bernie being the more dedicated male chauvinist, while Dan seems more reasonable and better able to relate to women on a one-to-one basis before being seen as another self-centered shallow male. The women also show a range of a similar sort, with Joan the misogynistic woman who may or may not be a lesbian and Deborah the seemingly a woman better able to relate to men and to develop a long-lasting relationship, though finally she as well falls prey to the idea that men and women may not be able to relate beyond the physical to any great degree at all.

TOPIC: Research Proposal on Sexual Perversity in Chicago by David Mamet Assignment

At least, that is the idea the play seems to represent. The title is provocative but also deliberately misleading, for what is depicted is not perversity in the sense of something unusual as well as unnatural but the idea that there is something perverse about normal sexual relationships in the world today. The men talk about women constantly as sex objects and as something to be pursued and conquered, then abandoned for the next pursuit. The women talk about men as predators who have to be kept at bay, though when they are attracted to a male they acquiesce until problems ensue, after which they return to a more misogynistic view of the species.

The various scenes are related by subject matter and by the ongoing interactions among the four characters. The men begin and end the play in scenes shaped around the aforementioned macho posturing, with Bernie taking the lead in both cases. However, it is the different pattern seen in Dan that becomes more interesting. Bernie talks one and on about one of his kinkier conquests in the opening scene, while in the last scene, the two men talk lustfully about women they see walking past them along the beach. The progression in the play centers on Dan and Deborah, with Dan being given the most attention as he shows some ability at relating to women. The play is structured to compare the men to the women and two men to each other. Bernie is unrepentant macho pig from the fist, and he never swerves from his sense of male superiority and from his view of women as something to be used. When Dan shows a desire to be with one woman, Deborah, Bernie manages to denigrate the idea even as he appears to be giving Dan his blessing: "I mean what the *****, a guy wants to get it on with some broad on a more or less stable basis, who is to say him no" (39).

The first scene introduces the two men, and in this discussion, Dan seems less chauvinistic largely because he does not talk as much as Bernie. Also, in contrast to the way Bernie rants on about women and about his encounter with a 19-year-old, Dan might seem merely to be indulging Bernie's coarseness in this first scene, and this impression is maintained through much of the play as Bernie does all the talking and Dan only listens. At the same time, Dan again and again asks if he should finish some work that Bernie is ignoring: "You want me to do these 12-12's?" (36); "You want me to do these 11-13's?" (48). Dan is the one more focused on work and on developing a relationship both, especially when compared to Bernie, who is always talking to someone or thinking about chasing women. The ongoing contrast makes Dan seem the more integrated human being and the one more open to other people, especially to women.

However, by the end of the play, Dan seems more and more like Bernie in terms of sexual behavior. In the lasts scene, the two talk in much the same way about the women they see and show no real difference in their view of relationships. Even before this, Dan has seemed more like Bernie as he and Deborah divide up their stuff and carp at one another as they do so. He calls her a few names and shows little sensitivity such as he had shown before. In some ways, the play suggests that men are much alike on a visceral level, while the nature of women remains more elusive in the way the characters of Joan and Deborah are presented.

Mamet makes use of the rhythms of speech in a way that shows a careful application of listening to the way people speak. They often speak in short sentences and even in one or two words, and there is a back-and-forth that develops between the men in particular that suggests using words as punctuation as much as for communication. In the opening scene, Danny responds several times to Bernie with no more than "Yeah?," showing that he heard and wanting to make it clear he needs assurance to believe what he is being told. For much of the play, Bernie does all the real talking, while Dan responds with a word or two that shows he is listening, shows he wants to keep the conversation moving, and that shows him to be the secondary personality, guided by Bernie in many ways, just as Dan is always ready to do Bernie's work for him, again showing him to be the secondary personality. Bernie is always the hail-fellow-well-met type, not only as he talks to Dan but when talking to others in the phone while Dan stands and listens.

Bernie contrasts with Dan in the structure of the play, as noted. In the first scene, the two men interact. In the third scene, after the two women are introduced in a very short scene, Bernie tries to pick Joan up in a bar and shows himself to be a man very antagonistic to any woman who does not fall in with his plans. A few scenes later, Dan meets Deborah and tries to pick her up, and he is far more gracious about it and also far more successful in this case. Mamet uses the conflict between Bernie and Joan to show how not to do it, while Dan behaves in a more human way that shows a real connection with the woman he is seeking. In the long run, though, the two men and the two women appear to be from different worlds, wanting different things, unclear what the other wants, and ultimately unable to make a lasting connection not based on something other than sex, a failure that may signal the real sexual perversion in the play, not a matter of kinkiness but a matter of perverting the role sex plays in a healthy relationship.

The scenes can be performed as a series of related blackouts, with shifts in lighting moving from one area to another, one scene to another, shifts that may be accompanied by sound changes to complement the location for each scene. Since there are only four people in the play, this could mean crowd sounds in each bar scene and similar sounds of people on the beach in the last scene. The scenes in the office as Bernie talks on the phone and Dan offers to do his work might be complemented by muted office sounds, as if there were a large number of workers in one large room as might be seen in a large company. No such additional is needed for the scenes in apartments. Joan's scenes as a teacher might be enhanced with the sounds of a noisy classroom behind her.

Both Joan and Bernie have lengthy speeches, his more bombastic as he wants… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Sexual Perversity in Chicago by David Mamet.  (2008, July 28).  Retrieved September 25, 2021, from

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"Sexual Perversity in Chicago by David Mamet."  28 July 2008.  Web.  25 September 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Sexual Perversity in Chicago by David Mamet."  July 28, 2008.  Accessed September 25, 2021.