Romance

  • Date:
    March 1, 2005
    Review by:
    Polly Wittenberg

    Nothing in Robert Brill�s classically stately courtroom setting prepares you for the uncontrolled chaos that is David Mamet�s new screed ironically called Romance. It all starts with the aggressive interrogation of a defendant chiropractor--or is it chiropodist?--(Steven Goldstein) by a bulldog prosecutor (Bob Balaban) about a drawing of a rabbit. The prosecutor is continually being interrupted by a bipolar pill-popping judge (Larry Bryggman) who is much more concerned about a contemporaneous Israeli-Palestinian peace conference than he is with getting on with the case.

    Take two, a screaming match between the defendant and his starchy attorney (Christian Evan Welch) that quickly degenerates into a shower of anti-Semitic, anti-Christian epithets, winds up as a loony plan for Mid-East peace.

    The real subject of Mamet�s typically staccato dialogue, where no one really talks to each other, doesn�t show up until near the end of the first act. That�s when we�re introduced to Bernard (Bunny)�played with relish by the flaming Keith Nobbs�the prosecutor�s thong-and-apron-clad partner who is more interested in how to clean a burnt roasting pan than in discussing �Prowst�.

    Though there�s no real change of scenery, you can tell that the milieu of the action has really changed because what was formerly a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington on the courtroom wall is now an erect lily in the style of Robert Mapplethorpe.

    After the unnecessary intermission (the play itself is less than 90 minutes long), it�s back to Gilbert Stuart and the formerly somnolent judge has entered a manic phase resulting in a partial strip tease. There�s Bunny interrupting the trial proceedings with a suitcase full of family knick-knacks. And a doctor and the court officer. And everyone turns out to know each other or, at least, to have spent a weekend together.

    In concocting what purports to be a hyper-kinetic farce, presented here under the precise direction of Neil Pepe, Mamet is poaching on territory perfected by the likes of Joe Orton in What the Butler Saw and Michael Frayn in Noises Off. He�s nowhere in their league.

    He does come through with a couple of good one-liners�one involving a cheese sandwich and another a Volvo�but more often the parry to any verbal thrust is �Fuck you.� or �Blow me.� That sort of stuff does get the expected titter from the audience but it�s not worth spending your hard earned bucks on.

    If you like what Mamet did to academic feminists in Oleanna or what he did to lesbian intellectuals in Boston Marriage, then you may well like what he does to gay lawyers in Romance. If not, you�d be better off staying home and watching television.

    What the critics had to say.....

    BEN BRENTLEY of the NEW YORK TIMES says �At their considerable best, Mr. Mamet's plays provide shots of full-strength theatrical adrenaline. This one has the impact of an over-the-counter sleeping pill.� HOWARD KISSEL of NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says it �Good farce begins in the real world and then proceeds, through rigorous logic, into daffy illogic. Here everything is strained and chaotic from minute one. So the overall effect is enervation and fatigue.� FRANK SCHECK of NEW YORK POST says " While completists will no doubt not want to miss it, "Romance" stands as distinctly minor Mamet." LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY says "The result is an almost shamefully entertaining 90 minutes, staged with meticulous timing by Neil Pepe.� MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER says "Preposterous and profane in content "Romance" may be -- but oh, how wickedly and well Mamet puts everything together. It's a dazzler." MICHAEL KUCHWARA of Associated Press says "Mamet is at his most adept, balancing language, character and story in a roller-coaster ride." ALEXIS GREENE of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER says "Mamet's refreshing, uproariously chaotic new comedy." JOHN SIMON of New York Magazine says "This is vintage farce (and in farce, as in wine, old is good), with no holds barred and all foibles bared." JOHN LAHR of The New Yorker says "Mamet, is a connoisseur of fiasco." TERRY TEACHOUT of the WALL STREET JOUNAL says "So all-encompassing that it made me weep with delight."

    External links to full reviews from newspapers

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    Associated Press
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    The New Yorker