Friday, May 15, 2009

David Mamet in Rare Form in Cambridge – The Jury is Still Out on “Romance”

Earlier this week, I attended a performance of David Mamet’s play, “Romance,” at the Loeb Theatre in Cambridge. I have long been a fan of Mamet’s writing, for the stage and for the screen – particularly “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Speed the Plow,” “The Spanish Prisoner,” and “Wag the Dog.” His acerbic wit and rapier tongue never fail to make a strong impression. “Romance” is a bold departure from Mamet’s usual fare, lurching often close to the feel of theater of the absurd. Mamet’s rage at the many things that are wrong with society has often been the rocket that launches his characters and their stories into orbit. In the case of “Romance,” the rocket ship threatens to self-immolate on the launching pad because of the power of the language and the free-form rage that passes like an electric shock from character to character.

The friend who accompanied me to this performance of the play in Cambridge remarked: “The acting is superb; I am still not sure about the writing.” The acting is, indeed, superb. Several longtime American Repertory Theater actors “acquit” themselves admirably in this courtroom/bedroom farce. Remo Airaldi, as the defendant whose crime is never named in the play, is perfectly cast in his role. Thomas Derrah, playing the role of the closeted Prosecutor, is finely nuanced in his performance. Will Lebow, as the histamine besotted judge, is simply transcendant in this role, using every gesture, vocal inflection, eyebrow arch and sneeze to full effect. He serves as Ground Zero for all things illogical, non-sequitorial and absurd in this piece. Jim Senti, as the Baliff, is wonderfully subtle in hinting throughout the play that there is more to this character than meets the eye.

Mamet slashes with a broad sword at stereotypes of every imaginable permutation. The Palestinian-Jewish conflict, the peace process, the judicial system, anti-semitism, racism, homophobia are all pilloried amidst an unrelenting hail of f-bombs, monologues, screaming matches and pratfalls. It is almost as if Mamet, like the hay fever-suffering judge, has been afflicted with the ragweed pollen of societal injustices and hatreds, and is sneezing out his discomfort in an atomized cloud of invective and expletive. Throughout the evening, I often felt uncomfortable, but I also could not keep myself from laughing. And that, I think, is his point. Reducatio ad absurdum on steroids! I wanted to ask myself the question that becomes a common thread in the judge’s rantings: “Have I taken my pill?”

If you are easily offended in the theater, then plead “nolo contendere” and stay away from Brattle Street. If you are a fan of Mamet and don’t mind wrestling with his demons, then take a seat in the courtroom and enjoy the ride. Before you fasten your seat belt – “All rise”!



The play runs through June 7 at the Loeb Drama Center as part of a David Mamet Celebration entitled "Sex, Satire, Romance, and Ducks."

A.R.T. Link

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