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Dont tell anyone,
but the emperor has no clothes. Oh, there are funny bits in David Mamets Romance,
an all male courtroom drama, but by and large it is politically incorrect with
scatological language delivered at break neck speed substituting for humor. Mind you, the
language is nothing that has not been heard before turn on Comedy Central and a
daily ration of fuck, etc. is available on demand.
Rapid fire delivery is Mamets hallmark and Neil Pepes direction misses not a beat. Unfortunately, speed does not equate with cleverness. Mamet is not known for comedy. The quick exchanges that ignite Glengarry Glen Ross and The Old Neighborhood give life and drama to deadly serious subjects. In Romance, the exchanges are more like those between students on a high school debate team, functioning against a time clock, trying to dazzle their opponents with fast talk over substance. Neither Pepes direction, superb acting nor an impeccable set (Robert Brill) can overcome the fact that there is not much there there.
There is an old joke among trial lawyers: "God has delusions of grandeur; he thinks he is a federal judge." Larry Bryggman, the judge in this slap shtick courtroom drama, brings the most genuine laughter. The allegation is never clear, nor is the offense necessarily federal, but this judge is the worst of the worst. He rambles on about a parade outside, sneezes his head off with allergies (to which his fawning bailiff responsively says gesundheit and the other participants join in), is inattentive to the proceedings, pops pills on the bench and boasts of his seemingly arbitrary power to jail people. Every lawyers nightmare. Bryggman holds nothing back and his timing is perfect.
Action begins with the prosecutor (Jim Frangione) interrogating the defendant (Steven Goldstein), a chiropractor, over his signature. The defendant repeatedly stymies the exchange with his evasive "it all depends on the meaning of what is is" style of non-response, in which the judge shows not the slightest interest, and the prosecutor not the slightest skill at moving the questioning forward. It is absurdist and so is the subsequent Jew-baiting, goy attacking battle between the ill-matched defendant and his counsel (Ed Begley, Jr.) during their conference. The prosecutor returns home to his stereotyped partner Bunny or Buns (Noah Bean), an over-the-top pretty boy. Like the exchange between defendant and counsel they are the sorts of scenes that are politically incorrect, but the audience is supposed to be sooo sophisticated it can laugh at itself laughing at the naughtiness. Oh, please.
The parade that had captivated the judge was in honor of a middle-east peace conference taking place in the city. Somehow defendant and counsel have come together in the second act to ask for a continuance and offer a plan to bring peace to middle east through chiropractic manipulation. Dont ask. Audience reaction is mixed, many are doubled over, but nonsense does not fine absurdist drama make. It is just nonsense and meaningless without wit. The denouement revealing that five of the seven men in the courtroom are gay brings relief. Finally it is over and all can go home.
November 4, 2005 - Karen Weinstein