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A CurtainUp BostonReview
Romance Launches the American Repertory Theater's Mamet Festival

By Larry Switzky

How can you have peace in the Middle East when you can't have Peace in your Home?.—Bernard
Will LeBow (center) presides over his courtroom
The American Repertory Theater kicks off its two-month David Mamet Celebration — Sex, Satire, Romance, and Ducks— with a production of the scathing 2005 farceRomance. A double bill of two early plays, Sexual Perversity in Chicago andDuck Variations, will follow, and the Institute for Advanced Theater Training actors will pitch in with a week long run of short plays by Mamet, Harold Pinter, and Shel Silverstein.

Why Mamet now? Why Romance which received mixed reviews during its 2005 run at the Atlantic Theater Company? According to ART acting Artistic Director Gideon Lester, Mamet concludes the theater's exploration of the twentieth century through Chekhov and Beckett since, as in Beckett, his recent stage work suggests mysterious depths beneath a vaudevillian surface.

Lester also had a "hunch" that the ART could do a better job with theplay. After all when Boston Marriage, the first in Mamet's triptych of savage farces (the most recent is November) opened at the ART in 1999 with Felicity Huffman and Mamet's wife Rebecca Pidgeon it garnered far more positive reviews than during its subsequent run at the Public Theatre.

Although Romance takes place mostly in a courtroom, Lester believes that its relevance has less to do with criminal justice than "the way we dress up our tribalist instincts with social niceties." It's also an extraordinarily> personal play in that it shows Mamet grappling with his Jewish heritage and male sexuality.

The ART's production is as lavish a staging as Romance is ever likely to get. J. Michael Griggs's intimidating courtroom, bordered by an enormous mural and blown up portraits of old, white jurists, suggests a country with a serious inferiority complex. The plot, such as it is, concerns the trial of a defendant (Remo Airaldi) for a vague crime while a Middle Eastern peace conference rages in the background amd the prosecuting attorney (Thomas Derrah) tries to sort out his relationship with his philandering partner, Bernard (Carl Foreman).

ART veterans Airaldi, Derrah and LeBow (The Judge) are joined by The Wire's Jim True-Frost (The Defense Attorney) and Jim Senti (The Bailiff). The ensemble plays solid, often feverishly inspired, verbal slapstick, though True-Frost doesn't have the seasoned comic chops of the regulars. Will LeBow as the Judge whose pill-popping non-sequiturs can galvanize or sink the play gives one of his greatest performances here. He makes a coughing fit into a seismic comic event.

Romance is a transitional piece for Mamet, somewhere between a five-fingerexercise and a total reinvention of his technique. It's a response to those who've said that he can't write comedy or oddball characters, though, in truth, he's been doing both for years. It also allows him some room to play with structure even within the mathematical confines of farce.

Although the ART has been publicizing the play as a carnival of offense, Scott Zigler's production gleams because it is so controlled and rigorous. So, see it because it's part of Mamet's self-willed evolution. See it because it's great fun. And see it because it may be the best production of the play we'll ever get.

A word about the title. Though there are a number of real and implied romantic involvements in the play, the title has stumped some audiences and critics. I think that author is referring to the stage genre of "romance" here. As he defines it in Three Uses of the Knife: "Romance celebrates the inevitable salvation/triumph of the individual over (or through the actions of) the gods—such triumph due, finally, not even to exertion but to some inherent (if unsuspected) excellence on the part of the protagonist."

To read Elyse Sommer's review of the New York production . For more about Mamet and his work, see Curtainup's David Mamet Backgrounder

Sex, Satire, Romance, and Ducks, a David Mamet Festival
Written by David Mamet
Directed by Scott Zigler
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)
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
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes, includes 1 intermission
Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street,, 617-547-8300
From 5/9/09 to 6/7/09
Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday at 7:30; Friday and Saturday at 8pm,
Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm
Tickets: $25-79
Reviewed by Larry Switzky based on the May 15 performance

Other productions in Sex, Satire, Romance, and Ducks
The Duck Variations> (performed in one evening with Sexual Perversity in Chicago)
Written by David Mamet
Directed by Marcus Stern
Lighting Design: Jeff Adelberg
Sound Design: David Remedios
Stage Manager: Chris De Camillis
Production Assistant Graydon Gund
Cast: Emil Varex, George S. Aronovitz, Thomas Derrah, Will LeBow
Sexual Perversity in Chicago
Written by David Mamet
Directed by Paul Stacey
Cast: Tim Eliot (Bernard); Scott Lyman (Dan); Susannah Hoffman (Deborah); Laura
Parker (Joan)
Costume Design: Mallory Freers
Lighting Design: Jeff Adelberg
Sound Design: David Remedios
Stage Manager: Kyle Carlson
Production Assistant: Graydon Gund
Zero Arrow Theater, Zero Arrow Street,, 617-547-8300
From 6/11/09 to 6/28/09
Tickets: $25-39

Seriously Funny
Written by David Mamet, Harold Pinter, and Shel Silverstein
Director: Jim Frangione
Cast: The 2009 Class of the Institute for Advanced Theater Training
Set Design: J. Michael Griggs
Costume Design: Mallory Freers
Lighting Design: Jeff Adelberg
Sound Design: Nathan Leigh
Stage Manager: Elizabeth Bouchard
Dramaturg: Lynde Rosario
Zero Arrow Theater, Zero Arrow Street,, 617-547-8300
From 5/29/09 to 6/6/09
Tickets: $10, $5 students and seniors
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