David Mamet is known for many things.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright? Check.
Acclaimed screenwriter and filmmaker? Yes.
Chicago area native? You bet.
Children’s author? Not so much.
But this month, the Goodman Theatre will introduce audiences to Mamet’s softer side with "The Revenge of the Space Pandas or Binky Rudich and the Two-Speed Clock," a family friendly production included in the David Mamet Festival, which runs March 25 through April 22.
Family friendly or not, some parents might be apprehensive about taking young children to a Mamet play—and rightly so. The term "Mamet-speak" was coined to describe the playwright’s sharp, caustic, often profane style of dialogue.
But Stacey Ballis, director of education and community programs at the Goodman, says the driving force behind the festival is a desire to show more facets of Mamet’s work.
"People are not aware of how enormously prolific David Mamet is," Ballis says. "Part of that is his work for young people."
"The Revenge of the Space Pandas," written in 1975, is one of three children’s plays by Mamet, the father of four grown children.
The story, aimed at kids ages 5 and up, follows tweens Binky and Vivian, along with Bob the Sheep, as the trio is transported via a two-speed clock from their home in Waukegan (yes, that Waukegan) to Crestview, the fourth world in the Goolagong system.
There they meet space pandas and other strange creatures, and must use cunning and teamwork to get home.
"It’s a charming, low-key, very funny play that takes various popular ideas from children’s entertainment and infuses them with deadpan humor that’s really just delightful," says director Steve Scott.
Scott met Mamet in 1980, when Mamet was the Goodman’s resident playwright and associate artistic director. Scott says while most people associate Mamet with his "gritty, Chicago plays," there is also a side of him that is playful, tender and appreciative of children.
"In some of his most complicated plays even, the children are ... the ones who understand what’s going on much better than the adults do," Scott says. "He has an innate respect for kids and their ability to figure things out, to see through things and understand what’s really going on."
Still, Park Ridge dad Lou Arrigani says "Revenge of the Space Pandas" looks interesting, but he would need to know more about it before taking his kids to see it.
"It may take some convincing, but if we let [the parents] know of the great fun of it, the whole idea that it’s kind of a cross between a Warner Bros. cartoon and Second City ... then we’ll get people in," Scott says.
"The Revenge of the Space Pandas or Binky Rudich and the Two-Speed Clock," which runs about an hour, will be performed at 10 and 11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 25 through April 22 at The Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago.
Tickets are $15, $8 kids 12 and under. Call (312) 443-3800 or visit www.goodman-theatre.org.
Thomas Wilmes, Medill News Service