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Regional Reviews by Nancy Grossman

Romance
American Repertory Theater

Also see Nancy's review of Grey Gardens

Romance
Will LeBow
In a corner of the concessions area of the Loeb Drama Center, there is a streaming video disclaimer, warning patrons that David Mamet's Romance may be offensive to ... well, just about everybody. And that is exactly what it is meant to be. That it succeeds in its mission and also elicits gales of laughter from the audience points to the genius of the playwright. Better known for his intense dramas featuring terse, crass language, it turns out that Mamet has quite the pointed funny bone, as well, and he brandishes it wildly in this farcical courtroom comedy.

Romance is the first of three entries in the American Repertory Theater's festival celebrating Mamet's comic plays; a double bill of Sexual Perversity in Chicago and Duck Variations runs June 11-28 at the Zero Arrow Club, paired with a week-long presentation (May 29-June 6 at Zero Arrow) of Seriously Funny, honoring his collaborations with friends and fellow playwrights Harold Pinter and Shel Silverstein with a selection of comedic short works by the trio.

Mamet's courtroom is a mad, mad, mad, mad world of pill popping, name calling, ethnic slurring, screaming sirens, disrobing, dissembling and all-around mayhem. Al Pacino's character from the 1979 film And Justice For All would be right at home here because everybody is out of order, from the judge to opposing counsel to the defendant to the prosecutor's boyfriend. Did I say prosecutor's boyfriend? What's he doing there? That's just one example of the bizarre goings-on in front of the bench of the Honorable Daniel Gould (Will LeBow), but it all pales in comparison to the bizarre behavior of the allergy-suffering jurist himself.

A Jewish chiropractor (Remo Airaldi) is on trial—for what offense, we don't know—and is interrogated by a tenacious homosexual prosecutor (Thomas Derrah), while his Catholic defense attorney (Jim True-Frost) ineffectually attempts to keep his client's testimony reined in. Gould is constantly distracted from the case at hand by a parade outside the window, his watery eyes and runny nose, and his uncertainty about whether or not he took his antihistamine. The strong, silent bailiff (Jim Senti) does what he can to keep the judge focused, but to little avail. During a recess from the proceedings, the defendant and his lawyer confer about strategy, leading to angry outbursts about each other's religions. Meanwhile, the prosecutor practices his oration at home and argues with his scantily clad boyfriend Bernard (Carl Foreman) as dinner burns, emitting smoke from the kitchen and adding fuel to their fiery exchange.

The first act is a shout fest filled with politically incorrect invective, long on laughs and short on plot. While I wonder what it's all about and anticipate some explanation in the second act, it spirals further down the rabbit hole, but I follow willingly. The judge staggers onstage in a bleary-eyed state of dishevelment, robe open, shirt untucked and tie askew. The defense attorney seeks a continuance so that his client can bring peace to the Middle East by offering chiropractic alignment to the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians who happen to be in town for a conference. The prosecutor and Bernard need an intervention in their troubled relationship that the judge is happy to offer. This action threatens to derail my suspension of disbelief, but the humor quickly gets back on track as loose ends are tied up, connections are made and confession seems good for everyone's soul. It hits home at the end that we never find out what offense the chiropractor committed and that the play is not really about anything other than a major skewering of the American system of jurisprudence and flogging our penchant for deception and being politically correct at all costs. However, it holds up a funhouse mirror and we get the point as we are being tickled silly.

LeBow dons both the black robe and the craziness of Judge Gould and has a field day. He commences with a sneezing binge, wiping his nose on his hand and his hand on his robe, and then consumes his pills by the handful like so much candy, eventually deteriorating to an hallucinatory state. His comic timing is impeccable, as is his mastery of the rhythm of Mamet's dialogue, and his physical comedy is hilarious. While the maniacal LeBow draws the most attention, Derrah's role calls for a mix of subtlety and wide strokes and he delivers on both counts. His uptight prosecutor is nicely offset by Foreman's sashaying emotional displays. Airaldi's broad performance quickly establishes the defendant's personality as a blustery dissembler, yet one who would solve a major world problem if it might save his neck. His name-calling, insult-laden row with True-Frost is an animated tête-à-tête in which both men are superb. Senti's bailiff is alternately stoic or flummoxed, registering every reaction on his face, and Doug Chapman's brief appearance as The Doctor brings an additional measure of physical zaniness to the proceedings.

How Director Scott Zigler manages to keep everybody from running amok, manipulating the mania, as it were, is beyond me. Perhaps it is his long-time collaboration with Mamet that gives him the tools and experience he needs to mount a controlled, out of control play. Credit is due Zigler for imparting the cadence of the Mamet dialogue to his actors and fully involving everyone on stage at all times. In addition, he has a fantastic ensemble cast, many of whom have worked together for years at the A.R.T., and J. Michael Griggs' realistically designed courtroom set with the traditional trappings serves as a sedate backdrop to the shenanigans. The harsh, bright lighting and offstage sirens evoke the feeling of being in a courtroom in the city. Miranda Hoffman's costumes make the lawyers look like lawyers, right down to Derrah's horn-rimmed glasses, and she daringly dresses Bernard (barely) as the boy toy he represents. Gideon Lester, A.R.T. Director for 08/09, calls Romance this season's dessert course, but it certainly sets the table and whets the appetite for the remainder of Sex, Satire, Romance, and Ducks: A David Mamet Celebration.

Romance by David Mamet at American Repertory Theater Performances through June 7 @ Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA Box Office 617-547-8300 or www.amrep.org

Director, Scott Zigler; Set Design, J. Michael Griggs; Costume Design, Miranda Hoffman; Lighting Design, D.M. Wood; Sound Design, David Remedios; Production Stage Manager, Katherine Shea; Dramaturg, Sean Bartley; Vocal Coach, Jane Guyer

Cast: Thomas Derrah, The Prosecutor; Remo Airaldi, The Defendant; Jim True-Frost, The Defense Attorney; Will LeBow, The Judge; Jim Senti, The Bailiff; Carl Foreman, Bernard; Doug Chapman, The Doctor


Photo: Michael Lutch



- Nancy Grossman



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