THE WATER ENGINE, Saint Sebastian Players. This show delivers more than I would expect from church-basement theater--and especially when the piece is David Mamet's 1977 radio play The Water Engine, one of his least satisfying efforts. The story is engrossing, however: set in 1934, during the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago, it focuses on inventor Charles Lang, whose engine fueled by water unleashes the murderous forces of greed. But Mamet's condemnation of America's naive faith in scientific progress and free-market capitalism unfolds with all the subtlety of brass knuckles.
Saint Sebastian's production has many of the trappings of community theater: a hodgepodge of acting styles, none quite on the mark; an anachronism-heavy costume design; and overearnest sluggishness (director Sean O'Leary imagines every word of Mamet's dialogue should be mulled over, when in truth 90 percent should be tossed off). But, in a genuine neighborhood effort, this is theater without an ounce of pretension or self-importance. It tells a clear, compelling story, and like a new kitten, the more it stumbles the more endearing it becomes. When a hand snuck out from backstage in the middle of a scene to close a door left open, I was more delighted than I've been in the theater for a long time. --Justin Hayford