Review: 'Romance' an adventurous choice

07:00 PM, Feb 24, 2013


Written By Leah Stacy

Limelight Productions’ “Romance” by David Mamet runs through March 1 at MuCCC, 142 Atlantic Ave. For advance tickets, visit muccc.org.

It’s rare that two theaters within a five-mile radius of one another schedule shows by the same playwright in the same month of their seasons.

That happened this month, though, with David Mamet.

Blackfriars Theatre produced A Life in the Theatre early in the month. Less than two weeks later, Limelight Productions opened Romance at MuCCC.

Of all of Mamet’s award-winning works, which span from Glengarry Glen Ross to American Buffalo, Romance has proven one of the hardest to produce.

When the show opened off-Broadway in 2005, the New York Times chief theater critic Ben Brantley condemned it as “a take-no-prisoners approach that, unfortunately, doesn’t capture laughs either.”

Put simply, Limelight took an adventurous step by choosing this play.

The action takes place in a courtroom where a passionate prosecuting attorney (James Heath) pleads with a judge (David Woodworth) doped on allergy meds. On the stand is the defendant, a dapper Jewish man (Brad Craddock) who can’t get along with his Episcopalian defense attorney (Mark Casey). Tangled up in the mess is the bailiff (Aidan Baker), a quiet voice of reason.

Nine years after it opened off-Broadway, the story is even dustier. With plotlines running through ethnic, racial and sexual stereotypes, the script makes a fool of its characters (and consequently, actors) more often than it makes a point. It’s “a charade, oh — a vaudeville,” using humor to tackle heavy subjects and dropping four-letter words throughout every sentence like they were life-giving breaths.

The play runs for an hour and a half with no intermission, due in part to the nature of Mamet’s work. If the momentum of the dialogue and action falters, the show could tangle into a great mess that actors often aren’t strong enough to comb through.

Understandably, Director John Jaeger has given the six-member, all-male cast license to draw out the farcical elements and comedic face expressions equivalent to a wink at the audience. But six actors playing to the audience at once grows a bit weary. There’s only so much lip pursing, huff puffing and eye-rolling a self-respecting spectator can take before they start doing the same thing.

Still, the production has its redeeming qualities.

In scene three, the audience meets Bernard (Jeff Miller), who saves the show. Also known as Bunny (or Buns, since the original show featured the actor in merely an apron and skinny thong), Bernard is the more domestic, emotional spouse of the gay prosecutor. Miller’s comedic timing is impeccable, a smooth complement to Heath’s frantic outbursts. Though someone made the decision to swap out a tiny thong for a pair of tight boxer briefs and rainbow, elbow-length gloves, the sass effect isn’t lost.

The play builds to a few quality ensemble moments: As each character “confesses” his inner secrets during the chaotic finale, Mamet’s snappy dialogue is present. The tennis match of wit and satire is there, producing a twisted hilarity only Mamet could conjure.

Maybe by the second weekend, that ebb and flow will move throughout the entire production.