Two Men on a Park Bench… David Mamet’s ‘The Duck Variations’

A green park bench in the outdoors. The purple ring surrounds with wording 'THE DUCK VARIATIONS' and 'The Duck Variations by David Mamet' also appears above the bench. Below the bench reads: 'The Duck Variations is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc.'

Who knew that ducks, friendship, and existentialism could coincide into a single theatre performance? These elements came together in a heartfelt conversation between two men in a recent performance of The Duck Variations.

bEST Theatre Company’s The Duck Variations that played at the Grand Theatre as a part of the Kingston Fringe, produced by the Kick & Push Festival, was an existential and meandering conversation between two men on a park bench exploring the concepts of mortality, friendship, love, and alienation. While the history of the men’s friendship prior to this meeting was unknown, it was made clear they were no strangers.

Starring Michael Bullett and Kevin Fraser, the simple set allowed for their dialogue to be the focus of the performance. The playwright, David Mamet, confronted the existential and politically motivated topics in repressed and veiled ways rather than using the direct language. This made sense considering he is an American writer. While I found the use of the metaphorical conversations about ducks as a way of opening a discussion into these difficult topics interesting and often humorous, I do think there would be more value in these men discussing their feelings directly.

It was clear that both men felt currents of alienation, isolation, and the fear of mortality, yet in order to relate to one another had to recourse to talking about ducks. Perhaps it was positive that these two middle-aged men’s seemingly repressed emotions and inner-worlds were able to open up through this conversation. By adding elements of humour in a bid to connect with one another, The Duck Variations was successful in creating space for two mento share their feelings and thoughts about life. As an audience member, I would have liked more of a progression to personal perspectives from each character rather than the perpetual recourse into metaphor. I think that there is value in being direct about the importance of friendship and the fears that one may feel about life’s uncertainties.

The initially cold atmosphere between the two men on the park bench did soften a bit as time went on, however the repressed emotional undertones of their friendship did make the conversation a bit more awkward than it could have been. The masculine feeling of avoidance and need to appear composed was very apparent in the relationship as mutual vulnerability was devoid. People often have a tendency to displace discomfort through humour to avoid being direct with ourselves and others as the ability to laugh at yourself can give a semblance of control. Of course, humour is not a bad thing and there were definitely some humorous moments in the performance.

In terms of production, the show was sold out and the audience seemed to really enjoy the show. It was fun to see a full crowd in attendance, people laughing, and the Kick & Push Festival being back in person. Perhaps the performance opened up conversations in the audience members to take place after the show. While not groundbreaking in production or diversity, The Duck Variations did leave me wanting to have a good chat with a friend on a park bench.

bEST Theatre Company’s ‘The Duck Variations’ ran from August 4-14. Click here for more information.