Bobby Gould in Hell, Plumb Line Productions, at Chicago Actors Studio. David Mamet’s cocky, amoral Bobby Gould appears in Speed-the-Plow (1988), Bobby Gould in Hell (1989), and a trio of one-acts collected under the title The Old Neighborhood (1997). Each work turns, in a sense, on Gould’s flaws. In Speed-the-Plow, for example, his overactive libido almost sabotages a big Hollywood deal.

In the one-act Bobby Gould in Hell, the character pays for his sins by grappling with two of Lucifer’s lesser minions. Barely an hour long, the play contains some marvelous comic bits, including the ongoing joke that Gould’s satanic accusers are not particularly bright–and painfully literal. They accuse him of cannibalism because he once told a lover he wanted to eat her up. But Mamet also makes acute observations on narcissism, moral cowardice, and modern life. In the right hands, the play’s balance of comedy and philosophy can seem positively Shavian.

The folks at the newly formed Plumb Line Productions are far from the right hands. They can’t even manage Mamet’s comic turns, assuming as many inexperienced troupes do that getting laughs is merely a matter of funny faces, eccentric gestures, exaggerated line readings, and lots of supposedly humorous props (Halloween vampire teeth, fake-fur toupees glued to bare feet). Sartre was wrong. Hell isn’t other people. Hell is bad theater.