Why a duck? The playwright goes to a lot of trouble to have several characters ask this very question. But instead of conjuring the inane silliness the Marx Brothers produced when they delivered this line, Berger's jokes are as forced and synthetic as his hero's invention. Duck elements, however, deviously work their way into a recurring motif. De Vaucanson's unique webbed toes are passed on to the next generation, for example.
Berger seems to be going for an effect akin to that of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, an intelligent and delicately constructed play in which love, landscape architecture, and calculus are combined to reveal new ideas about history. At the end of Great Men, however, all we're left with is the ridiculous specter of a mechanical duck. Indeed this machine may be designed to eat and defecate on command, but it's not the real thing. The same can be said of Berger's overcalculated drama.