came from. He plainly got tired of so many young whippersnappers
mimicking and parodying him that he decided to get in on the fun
himself. Let’s see: rapid-fire aggressive dialogue, constant
interruptions, ethnic jabs, paranoia, absurdity, cruelty and about 100
quote-worthy lines—all present. Only it’s a Marx Brothers-style
courtroom comedy with the impossible title of Romance (don’t ask; you’ll get a seltzer bottle in the kisser), Rarely Done’s new production at Jazz Central, 441 E. Washington St.
Other playwrights have done this. Tom Stoppard opens The Real Thing
with a long monologue his detractors would call a bad Stoppard
speech—only it’s a gag and ends quickly. Mamet’s more ambitious. His
gag runs, without intermission, an hour and 15 minutes.
Trying to extract a plot from these
shenanigans is about as inviting as lighting an exploding cigar, but
there is plenty of action. An unnamed defendant (Edward Mastin) is
bullied by an articulate but overbearing prosecutor (John Brackett) on
such matters as the difference between a chiropractor (the defendant’s
profession) and a chiropodist, a man who rubs feet. We never know with
what the defendant has been charged, a broad wink to Franz Kafka’s The Trial. The
addled and distracted judge (Tom Minion) never implies that he knows
what the trial is about because he’s more concerned with popping pills,
supplied by the bailiff (Bob Rogers), that remove him farther and
farther from the subject, whatever that is.
Mamet generates more heat and fun in
tightly paced dialogues, not all of which are in the courtroom. Among
the best of these comes early in the rising crescendo of insults
between the defendant, whom we learn is Jewish, and his defense attorney
(John LoFaro), a Christian conservative.
They taunt each other constantly with pugnacious F-bombs. In mocking
his penchant for street profanity, Mamet makes perhaps less than 1
percent of the play’s dialogue this expletive, and when repeated it
begins to sound like “Gesundheit!” (itself the subject of recurring
Perhaps because he is Jewish himself,
Mamet gives the defendant the verbal upper hand: “I hired a goy lawyer.
It’s like going to a straight hairdresser.” Or on learning which church
his attorney attends: “Episcopalian? That’s a Catholic who drives a
Volvo.” In payback the defense attorney grouses, “You people can’t
order a cheese sandwich without mentioning the Holocaust.”
Mamet eventually reveals to us that the
pompous prosecutor has a private life he’d rather we not see—but, of
course, we do. At home he is greeted by his lover Bernard (Alan D.
Stillman), also known as Bunny or simply “Buns.” While all the other
members of the cast, except the bailiff, are in business suits, Bunny
greets the prosecutor with a tiny leopard bikini below and nipple studs
above. Given to temper tantrums because he is so often house-bound and
unappreciated, Bernard gives Mamet an opening for gay-themed insult
dialogue. Bernard, however, has more on his mind than bitchery.
Back in the courtroom the judge’s
deportment has seriously deteriorated. As the script has introduced
ethnic tension and bitchy humor (and, implicitly, homophobia), those
themes now swirl into the judge’s hazy vision. Bunny’s unexpected
arrival in a suit brings out the judge’s inner queer. Might Shakespeare
have been a Jew? (The defendant says a Christian could not have written
such good lines.) Could he have been a fag? This drives the judge into
a riff on Shylock’s speech: “Whaddya think I’m made of, curds and whey?
I’m flesh and blood, like any other man. Look, look, look, if you cut
me, do I not bleed? Gimme that letter opener . . .”
It’s not long before Bernard is trying
to sit on the judge’s lap and a late-arriving doctor (Brian Pringle)
tries to give the judge an injection to calm him down. If the case
cannot be made against the defendant, then everyone else in the company
will confess himself guilty of something, with admissions of cheating
and bizarre sexual encounters to
Mamet will never be confused with
Georges Feydeau or W.S. Gilbert, and sure enough, all this mayhem turns
out to be about something more than what we see. While the trial is
going on, we get continual reports of a peace conference of Israelis
and Palestinians being held at the same time. The defendant wants to
leave the trial so he can attend, pushing a cockamamie plan involving
spinal manipulation. The perception Mamet wants us to share is not hard
to figure out: If these dudes cannot come to reasonable discourse on a
fairly petty matter in a small room, what can we expect of nations,
cultures and religions?
The defense rests: Edward Mastin and John LoFaro in Rarely Done’s Romance.
Director Judith Harris has had long experience with farce, especially for those who remember her guidance of Alan Ayckbourn’s Taking Steps
in 1994 at Salt City Center for the Performing Arts. Along with driving
the necessarily furious pace, she shapes each one of the cardboard-thin
characters. Among the most surprising are the relative newcomers and
people working against type.
Edward Mastin, last seen in November as an empathetic straight man opposite Bernie Kaplan in Visiting Mr. Green
at Cazenovia College, has the most fun with some of Mamet’s juiciest
ripostes. Although the lines might call for it, he and director Harris
were prudent not to have him adopt Borscht Belt rhythm and timing.
Almost as much fun is rich baritone John Brackett, who previously
appeared in a few shows at Appleseed Productions, even though his
character calls for more aggression than wit.
Others are working against type,
starting with Tom Minion as the judge; a year ago he recently played a
self-righteous and temporizing clergyman in Rarely Done’s Sin: A Cardinal Deposed. John LoFaro, a lawyer in real life, has previously performed in Salt City Center’s 1994 mounting of the courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men, a straight version of Romance. But none has moved farther than Alan D. Stillman, last seen as the monster in advanced age in Appleseed’s October show Playing With Fire: After Frankenstein: from that creature to nipple rings without a wince.
With August Wilson dead, David Mamet may or may not be the major living American playwright. In Romance he gives himself a hotfoot.
This production runs through April 19. See Times Table for information.