Photos by Uka Meissner deRuiz
Written in 1972, THE DUCK VARIATIONS is a play by the American playwright David Mamet which focuses on two old men who first randomly – then regularly – meet on a park bench and slowly develop a somewhat odd and begrudgingly acknowledged, reluctant “friendship”.
While the two strangers fumble for topics to speak about, they somehow always end up reverting to the ducks that they observe swimming around on the lake and their awkward daily sessions entail philosophizing about the world in general and ducks in particular.
The crazy-smart talk of these misguided conversations, discussions and arguments cover some strange territory; human nature, sex, friendship, love, and mortality using the metaphor of the ducks to express their fears about aging and death. Ironically, they know absolutely nothing whatsoever about ducks. If they did, it would not improve their beautiful fugue on the theme of the possibility of happiness.
The two men use what life experience has taught them, incorporating scattered, mostly incorrect ideas to make assumptions; while assuring the other that these unqualified guesses are established fact. Through their daily debates (and occasional agreements) a composite view of ducks and by extension, the world, begins to emerge.
The situation in THE DUCK VARIATIONS reminds one of the philosophical dialogues between Estragon & Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT or Jerry & Peter in Edward Albee’s THE ZOO STORY. All three of these plays may be viewed as “extended Vaudeville sketches” with Laurel & Hardy like protagonists; one ends in pseudo philosophic wisdom, one ends tragic, one never ends at all… waiting, waiting, waiting…
George and Emil, in THE DUCK VARIATIONS, clumsily, yet poignantly, attempt to forge a link with nature – “our window to the world” – specifically with ducks. Pompous tall talking George displays the confidence of ignorance and brims with half-baked misinformation, wishful thinking and stubborn pontification. He is an opinionated big talker who needs a small listener – Emil; who is the more poetic of the two and compares their plight with their ancient Greek counterparts; “Incapable of working, of no use to society, who used to watch the birds all day.”
There is something quite glorious about the reluctant friendship of George and Emil – their fumbling, rumbling, stumbling, mumbling creates a clumsy prayer for our planet.
When Emil proclaims “the natural need for companionship”, George informs him that “a cactus is able to live alone quite nicely.” Not one to give in easily, Emil counters with “I don’t want to hear it. If it’s false, don’t waste my time and if it is true I don’t want to know.”
THE DUCK VARIATIONS by David Mamet
Monday, September 13 at 20:00 hrs in MERLIN