Eternal questions are being hotly debated in the back room of the Italian Café in Falls Church, where the Providence Players of Fairfax have once again set up shop for a “pop-up production” of a David Mamet play. This one is Bobby Gould in Hell, a one-act sequel of sorts to Speed-the-Plow, which follows that play’s main character to a decidedly uncomfortable afterlife. For one intense hour, Bobby grapples with a mysterious but aggressive Interrogator over issues of conscience and guilt, pleasure and pain, sin and forgiveness, with his soul hanging in the balance.
The four actors tackle Mamet’s tough and multilayered script with gleeful abandon. (I almost said they acted the hell out of it, but that would have been truly unforgivable.) Michael Donahue, in particular, gives a terrific performance, endowing the Interrogator with generous amounts of swagger, but there’s not a weak link in the cast. Bill Bodie skillfully blends humor and pathos in his portrayal of Bobby; his physical acting when he tries to leave hell and finds himself restrained is especially impressive (even when the act doesn’t involve a giant stuffed bear erupting from the wings).
Jayne L. Victor makes a wonderfully wry investigator’s assistant, aided by a flexible voice that moves easily from jocular to sinister. Lindsey June brings surefire comic instincts to bear on the tricky role of Glenna, Bobby’s ex-girlfriend who gets hauled down to hell to testify about her experiences with him.
The set (no designer listed) is spare but functional, with highlights including the colorful cloth backdrops ranging from sanctified to psychedelic, and the elaborate wooden chair in which Bobby waits to hear his fate. Lighting designers Chip Gertzog and Jimmy Gertzog use their necessarily limited equipment to great effect.
Director Maria Watson handles this thorny material with a confidence that carries conviction. You may emerge not fully understanding Mamet’s views on hell, but you’ll have had both a thought-provoking and a wildly exciting ride.
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour, without intermission.
Bobby Gould in Hell, presented by Providence Players of Fairfax, plays September 5-7 and 12-14 at 8 p.m. at the Italian Café – 7161 Lee Highway, Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call (703) 425-6782 or go online.