“The Cryptogram” by David Mamet at Seattle Public Theater

Cryptogram: a puzzle whose meaning must be deciphered.

Encrypted meaning, that’s what Mamet has given us in this spare, tense, autobiographical work. Unlike so many of Mamet’s plays where the language is shockingly, though cleverly, coarse, here there’s no swearing. The words are limited, repeated again, and again, yet they seem never to convey the full meaning intended by the speaker.

It’s a play about secrets and tensions, treacheries and abandonment. Ten-year-old John (Rowan Calvert), his mother (Emily Grogan), and their adult friend Del (Richard Nguyen Sloniker) wait for the boy’s father. They talk, but in this verbal dance, the partners never touch. And Father never shows. Lies are exposed, guilt is revealed. And then there’s the knife!

Sprinkled throughout the play, and adding to its puzzlement, are mystical references to the number three, a number than has significance for both Christians and Jews, though religion is not part of this work.

Director Kelly Kitchens keeps the tension high throughout. Calvert is remarkable as a suffering and alienated child, though on the night I attended he spoke too softly. Grogen and Sloniker are eerily powerful as they hold out the welcome mat to the grown-up world.

Through Oct. 23 at the Bathhouse, 7312 W. Greenlake Dr. N., Seattle (206 524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheater.org)

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