A theater ticket often doubles as a ticket to another world.
And this week, local audiences have their choice of two vastly different, but equally distinctive, destinations: Mametland and Runyonland.
First stop: Mametland, the particular realm of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet, whose pingpong dialogue and cynical perspective characterize such modern classics as “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
Those characteristics also turn up in Mamet’s 1974 one-act “Squirrels,” from Olde English Productions, which opens a three-weekend run Friday at the Las Vegas Little Theatre Studio.
Next stop: Runyonland, a Never-Never-style New York City of yore, filled with colorful gamblers, gangsters, nightclub denizens, even save-a-soul crusaders, as created by man-about-Manhattan writer Damon Runyon — and immortalized in “Guys and Dolls.”
Signature Productions’ staging of the classic musical (based on Runyon’s tales “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure”) begins a four-week run Tuesday at the Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center.
The absurdist one-act and the beloved song-and-dance romp (the latter on everybody’s short list of all-time great musicals) may not have much in common.
Except, of course, their distinctive world views — and the chance to bring those theatrical worlds to life.
Mamet’s is “one of those names that transcends the theater — like Neil Simon,” according to Olde English’s Shane Cullum, who’s making his directorial debut with the “Squirrels” production. “Even just his name kind of attracts an audience.”
In “Squirrels,” Mamet focuses on an egotistical hack writer (played by Gary Lunn) who’s been working on the opening line of the same story for 15 years: an account of a man-vs.-squirrel encounter in a park.
Enter fledgling writer Edmond (Gus Langley), whom Arthur hires to work as his secretary/collaborator. Together, Arthur and Edmond develop increasingly ridiculous storylines, while Arthur’s cleaning woman (Valerie Carpenter Bernstein) contributes her own literary ideas.
Cullum describes “Squirrels” as “purely a performance piece, without all the fluff,” he says. “The set consists of a desk. There’s no fighting, no sex — it’s just about the writing and the acting.”
And Mamet’s writing provides a challenge, says Cullum, who — like his cast members — has performed the playwright’s works previously.
“His dialogue is so crisp,” Cullum says. “It’s fun as an actor to perform,” to “throw those lines back and forth. It requires the actors to really be on the ball.”
And while Mamet’s works often feature dramatic confrontations, “Squirrels” definitely emerges as more of a comedy — an existential one. (It’s even drawn comparisons to another absurdist classic, Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.”)
“It’s sort of a play where nothing happens,” Cullen acknowledges.
But “what makes it funny” is that “it’s a play where two guys argue about the most ridiculous subjects,” he notes. “Even watching (the cast) rehearse — I’ve seen it now about 50 times and I’m still laughing so much.”
That response could also apply to “Guys and Dolls,” which has been entrancing audiences since its Tony-winning 1950 debut.
It’s a valentine to Runyon’s Broadway — the kind of place where gangsters, gamblers, nightclub chorines and “repent, sinner” reformers not only meet and mix but roll the dice and take a chance on love.
That’s exactly what happens between gambler Sky Masterson (Steve McMillan) — so named because of his sky-high betting style — and starchy Save-A-Soul Mission Sgt. Sarah Brown (Audrey Hansen), whose unlikely romance prompts such Broadway classics as Sky’s “Luck Be a Lady.” (Which has, not surprisingly, become a Vegas classic as well.)
Offering comic contrast to their relationship: the perpetually engaged Nathan Detroit (James Claflin), proprietor of “The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York,” and nightclub singer Miss Adelaide (Anita Bean).
In “Adelaide’s Lament,” the latter consults a medical text to determine the source of her constant coughing and sneezing. As she sings, “The average unmarried female, basically insecure, due to some long frustration may react, with psychosomatic symptoms, difficult to endure, affecting the upper respiratory tract. In other words, just from waiting around for that plain little band of gold, a person can develop a cold.”
The song snippets above offer a major clue to “Guys and Dolls’ ” perennial popularity: composer-lyricist Frank Loesser’s incomparable score, which captures the distinctive dialect — a blend of highly formal phrasing and informal slang — Runyon used in his stores,
But Douglas H. Baker, who’s directing the Signature production, cites another reason for the show’s enduring appeal: “the struggle between men and women.” Or, to use Runyon’s parlance, guys and dolls.
Consider these lyrics from the show’s snappy title tune: “When you spot a John waiting out in the rain, chances are he’s insane as only a John can be for a Jane. When you meet a gent paying all kinds of rent for a flat that could flatten the Taj Mahal, call it sad, call it funny, but it’s better than even money that the guy’s only doing it for some doll … “
And while it’s no secret that “there’s a big difference between men and women,” Baker observes, “Guys and Dolls” says “that difference is to be celebrated.”
Or, as Arvide Abernathy (Robert Langford), Sarah’s uncle and colleague at the Save-a-Soul Mission, tells the lovelorn Sarah: “Why do you want to get over love? It isn’t pneumonia.”
In the show, the central characters learn to “accept both (their) gifts and flaws,” Baker notes, and the musical “does it in a fun way that we all understand.”
Contact reporter Carol Cling at email@example.com or 702-383-0272.