A young boy, John, comes downstairs to tell about his upcoming trip with his dad to the family friend, Dell. Mother, Donnie, is in the kitchen making tea. Soon the three are discussing the excitement of the trip, why John can't sleep, and why Donnie's husband and John's father, Robert, is not yet home from work. Consenting to try to sleep, and on his way upstairs, John finds a note on the steps for Donnie: Robert is leaving her. Over the next month Donnie finds solace with her old friend Dell, as they try to comfort John, who becomes ill with fever. Still not sleeping, John consistently interrupts with his fears of not sleeping, and with questions about life and death. While John comes in and out of the living room, Donnie quizzes Dell about discrepancies she's noticed lately. Dell avoids her probes, but Donnie asks about her husband's Air Force knife now in Dell's possession. Saying Robert gave it to him on a camping trip, and finding out Donnie knows there was no trip, Dell finally admits to allowing his apartment to be used by Robert for an affair, with the knife being a payoff. Thinking Donnie will forgive him, Dell is jolted when she throws him out of her house. John still can't sleep, and worries more about death as he is now visited by voices. Realizing Donnie's thrown him out of her life, Dell tries once more to set things right. He visits and begins to convey his life and decisions he's had to make, and how he's relied on the relationship they have all had over the years. Donnie goes further into a state of panic and anxiety. She has been betrayed by all the men in her life and she's not willing to forgive Dell. John all the while keeps interrupting and telling his mother about the voices he hears and how he still can't sleep. He needs the blanket already packed; he needs her help to rid himself of the voices. So angry and annoyed, Donnie allows John to carry the Air Force knife, open, upstairs to cut the string on the box which holds the blanket. As John pleads for help to rid himself of the voices, he goes upstairs, knife in hand, as the lights fade.
"Mamet is…an original playwright…Using time-stained material, he has invented an original and vastly interesting play…" —NY Post. "It's impossible to imagine anyone being prepared for the closing seconds of THE CRYPTOGRAM, a quietly shattering finale that caps eighty of the most densely packed, emotionally searing minutes this season—or any recent season, for that matter—has offered." —Variety. "THE CRYPTOGRAM, David Mamet's radical, elliptical new work…is not casually titled: It speaks in code…[It] is tough, but it rewards…" —NY Times.