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David Mamet's early, aberrant foray into semiabsurdism is more extended Meisner exercise than developed play, but his wry take on the workaday bumblings of would-be genius provides thoughtful entertainment, as director Sean Hargadon's swift, intelligent Janus Theatre production makes clear. Self-absorbed writer Arthur and his young assistant, Edmond, spend all day, every day trying to create a profound story from an inert premise--a guy on a park bench strangles a squirrel--fiddling endlessly with the details but never generating anything meaningful. Hulking, grandiose Justus Woolever and timid, twig-thin Kurt Chiang are apt foils as Arthur and Edmond, overly intellectual buffoons in an inconsequential power struggle. As their potty-mouthed, licentious cleaning woman--a character who hardly belongs in the play--Patricia True is a bit forced. But all three actors heed Mamet's famous advice to "just say the words," creating a clear, uncluttered evening. Through 5/15: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 7 PM. Athenaeum Theatre, first-floor studio theater, 2936 N. Southport, 312-902-1500. $12-$15; two for one Thu and Sun.

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