DEADLY DULL AT TIMES, THE Northwest Actors Studio's production of David Mamet's Lakeboat floats on its own banality, drawing the audience into the characters' tedious world of mops and engine rooms, curses from the impetuous mate, ever-present cigarettes, and evoking an occasional laugh. Intentional or not, forcing the audience into this gray zone renders the ambivalent romanticization of steamboat crews that much more effective. Mamet is (in)famous not only for manly scripts, but his poetic take on everyday language tics and doublespeak. Lionizing street-corner dialogue has its ups and downs--while providing an invigorating "art is everywhere" perspective, it can also oversimplify his characters, turning real people into Mameticized art objects.

The übermasculinity Mamet aims to capture dulls when transplanted from actual mess halls and boiler-rooms to an intimate Capitol Hill theater, making Lakeboat a self-conscious museum curio, not macho-lovin' art. The boatboys chew the fat about action films and hard knocks, drunkenness and how to get laid ("treat 'em like shit," recommends one cantankerous old salt). Always benign, despite their ruthless talk, they eat pie, smoke, complain, fantasize, and occasionally work. Meandering through vignettes between two or three characters, Lakeboat's only major plotline concerns the distant and vaguely insane captain's quest to get an egg sandwich, and an evolving rumor about some crew member who didn't return from shore leave. Never quite brilliant and sometimes downright terrible, the production retains an entertaining, if not illuminating, edge throughout.

With a few exceptions, Lakeboat is burdened with uninspired and inconsistent performances, as well as overly self-conscious "look-we're-doing-Mamet-dialogue" delivery. However, as Fred, the animated, cigar-chomping logician, Thomas Crown was a steady breath of fresh air--stomping, jabbering, and bringing life to an otherwise flat cast.

In the end, the script steals the show, making the overall effect more like an off-book reading than a bona fide performance. Though the script celebrates workin'-man atavism and drink-away-your-wages living, artistic license allows us to peek behind the sweat and blisters, into the characters' sometimes rough, sometimes gentle souls.

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