David Mamet's Romance at Bay Street: A Review

You know you are in David Mamet's world when the expletives fly rapid fire, one distasteful zinger after another, breaking every taboo. You laugh, and hearing the rhythms, you call it poetry. The title Romance may suggest a candlelit evening, but here that candle may be a stick of dynamite up our cultural ass. Four tight scenes performed in an hour and a half, Romance features a fine ensemble: Richard Kind, Darrell Hammond, Chris Bauer, Matt McGrath, Reg Rogers, Joey Slotnick and Joe Pallister, expertly directed by Lisa Peterson. Like the language, time zings by.

Mamet's writing has never been this funny, or have I missed something in recent productions? Race seems more an acted out essay on that subject, Oleanna too, on the subject of sexual harassment to the point of who is manipulating whom. Romance adds slapstick and shtick to a courtroom farce. Somewhere in the neighborhood, there is a peace conference, a protest, a parade. Under consideration: how to achieve peace in the Middle East, was Abraham Lincoln a Jew (yes, just look at the photographs), was Shakespeare a Jew (inconclusive), was he a homosexual, and, what do homosexuals actually DO anyway. Then, for wardrobe: one man lounges in a leopard thong, another rips off his clothes in court revealing socks held up with garters, and boxer shorts to the loud gasps of the audience.

Richard Kind plays the Judge who cannot remember whether or not he's taken his medication, sneezing, confessing to some impropriety with his daughter, oy vey! Most recently seen in episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and in the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man, as well as Bay Street's production of Charles Busch's The Lady in Question, Kind has a featured role in the upcoming HBO series, Luck. He is a treasure, funny just standing still.

Murphy Davis, Bay Street artistic director with Sybil Christopher, said they read the play some years ago and wanted to stage it, but perhaps they were thinking, this is genteel Sag Harbor. Then, with the success of Dinner, a British transplant by Moira Buffini last summer that starred Mercedes Ruehl serving primordial soup, a dish to die for, they realized they could now do Romance. As it is, Davis said, a woman walked out in the midst of one preview noisily announcing she'd had enough.

As to Mamet's "thing" with gender: This being an all male show, they deliberately decided to have a woman director. Davis quipped, they may move it to Off-Broadway with a new judge: Lady Gaga.

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