The Duck Variations

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The Duck Variations is a 1972 play by American playwright David Mamet. The play depicts a discussion taking place between two elderly men sitting on a park bench watching ducks. The dialogue begins with the mating habits of ducks and runs to examine law, friendship and death. The principal irony is that the men really know nothing about ducks. If they did, it would not improve their beautiful fugue on the theme of the possibility of happiness. Rather they use what experience has taught them and scattered, possibly incorrect ideas and facts to make guesses. They each assure the other that their guesses are established fact. By argument and occasional agreement a composite view of ducks and by extension, the world, begins to emerge.


The play is focused around two old men who randomly meet on a park bench. Although it is usually played that the two men do not know of each other, (the stage directions are ambiguious—they could meet, or they could be old friends) they awkwardly begin to talk to each other. As they fumble for topics to speak upon, somehow they always end up reverting to the ducks swimming around in the lake. Although their conversations seem misguided, as they talk about the ducks, many wise conversations are actually discussed. They talk about the leader of the ducks, and how every other duck follows that leader. When the leader duck dies, then a new leader must be chosen. They also talk about how everything the ducks do has a purpose. Within the dialog of the men, they talk about why things occur naturally, friendship, and death, not only in reference to the ducks, but also in human nature.