Also see Sharon's review of Ripper's Last Log
Presiding over this nonsense is a judge (Larry Bryggman) with an extremely short attention span. He keeps forgetting whether he has taken his pill, and he is much more interested in talking about a peace conference between Arabs and Jews than actually ruling on any of the attorneys' objections.
Mamet is certainly having fun taking aim at the legal system and the people who play it like a game. (Particularly dead-on is the way everyone in the courtroom rushes to say "Gesundheit" when the judge sneezes, out of fear that they will not be seen as sufficiently deferential.)
In the initial courtroom scene, everyone is speaking with the somewhat stilted formality of a judicial proceeding. The second scene is a private discussion between the defendant and his attorney (Ed Begley, Jr.) in which they discuss how the case is going. Once the judge is no longer present, the language quickly deteriorates into the profanity-laced informality we all know and expect from a Mamet play. While the defense attorney chides the defendant for testifying against his advice, the defendant is shocked that his attorney is not helping him fabricate a better defense. "You don't want to lie?" he asks, astonished, "Why did you go to law school if you don't want to lie?"
But the defendant and his attorney are of different religions, and it doesn't take very long for their argument to escalate into shouted anti-Jewish and anti-Christian slurs. It is hard to imagine a situation in which "You fuckin' kike" is funny, but it is - not because of any inherent humor in the words, but because of the fact the attorney actually says them. Although Begley seems to have a little trouble initially cranking his anger up to the point where he'd spew religious invective, both Begley and Goldstein quickly end up in that special theatrical place where they are feeding off each other's energy and the laughs come fast and furious.
Unfortunately, the play never quite reaches this point again. The third scene, in which we see the prosecutor at home with his partner Bernard (Noah Bean), is more exposition than comedy, and it runs way too long between laughs. Certainly, the scene easily establishes the prosecutor's relationship with his eye-candy boyfriend, but there isn't much more to it than that. The audience appeared to enjoy laughing at some of the standard stereotypically gay behavior of Bernard, but these are, on the whole, cheap laughs.
The final scene brings everyone back together in the courtroom for a scene which is the entire second act of this quick play. Here, all loose ends are tied up in a scene that is traditional farce. (Yes, there is a slamming door, and someone is deprived of their clothes.) With Bryggman's easily distracted judge in control of the proceedings, the subject of the actual trial seems less important than determining issues such as Shakespeare's religion and sexual orientation. Bryggman's performance is solid here; being ridiculous isn't always easy, but Bryggman's judge is plausible throughout. Nonetheless, the pacing of this scene's dialogue - with seven people in the room all pursuing their own agendas - isn't quite as perfect as it was during the second scene. There's no doubt that the raw materials are there in Mamet's script, but the company, under Neil Pepe's direction, doesn't fall into the tempo necessary to make the jokes really fly.
Romance continues at the Mark Taper Forum through November 13, 2005. For tickets and information see www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.
Center Theatre Group - Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director; Charles Dillingham, Managing Director; Gordon Davidson, Founding Artistic Director - presents The Atlantic Theater Company production of Romance by David Mamet. Directed by Neil Pepe. Set Design by Robert Brill; Costume Design by Sarah Edwards; Lighting Design by James F. Ingalls; Sound Design by Obadiah Eaves; Fight Director Rick Sordelet; Casting by Bernard Telsey Casting and Amy Lieberman, CSA; Associate Producer Patricia Wolff; Production Stage Manager Matthew Silver; Stage Manager David S. Franklin.