Stage review: 'Romance' a fine farce for Kinetic


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A crackerjack professional cast and a brisk 75-minute farce by David Mamet that plays around with explosive topics: Sounds like fun, right?

Yes, it is, often funny and somewhat explosive -- although with a top-notch cast like this, part of me was wishing they were tackling one of Mr. Mamet's greater plays (think "Glengarry Glen Ross" or "American Buffalo"), instead of "Romance," a lightweight comedy-farce from his recent sour, disgruntled period.

'Romance

Where: Kinetic Theatre at Alloy Studios, 5530 Penn Ave.

When: Through Aug. 2. 8 p.m. through Sunday, also July 28, 30 and Aug. 1-2.

Tickets: $30 (at the door, $35; 25-and-under, $15); 1-888-718-4253 or kinetictheatre.org.


This being summer, presumably director Andrew Paul thought we'd prefer something light. But about Mr. Mamet we could say, as Oliver Goldsmith did of Dr. Johnson, that if he wrote of minnows, he would make them talk like whales. Similarly, when Mr. Mamet writes a farce, he jokes about racism, bigotry and Arabs vs. Israelis.

To his credit, the incongruity between serious subject matter and farce treatment is often funny in itself, as long as you disconnect your disapproval at all the offensive racial epithets and let yourself laugh. And to the ultimate saving of the play, he whips up a final resolution that resolves nothing but dissolves the serious issues and returns to summer silliness.

It also turns out that the most serious arena involved -- anti-Semitism and the Mideast -- is now back into daily prominence, whereas when the play was first staged, in 2005 off-Broadway, it was in danger of seeming passe. Hardly now! Still, contemporary political relevance is an odd engine for a farce.

Do I sound conflicted? If so, I reflect the Kinetic Theatre audience, both chortling and aghast.

Mr. Mamet is very bright, as the tangle of puns, plot points and political events makes clear. I love the idea that an Episcopalian is really "a Catholic with a Volvo" -- he spins comic insights like that, lickety-split. Some of the dialogue is perfect Mamet in its broken sentences and staccato implication, although here it's intentionally funny, not pathetic or menacing.

The play also offers what's billed as a foolproof plan for peace in the Mideast, although it turns out nothing can be proof against fools, whether fictional or real. And did I say there's extensive full-dorsal male nudity? It could hardly be female, because the characters are all male in the characteristically Mametian male setting.

Kinetic Theatre is the name of the latest endeavor of Mr. Paul, founder and longtime artistic director of PICT and then briefly the Phoenix. He has used his extensive Rolodex to great effect, assembling a fine cast both local (David Whalen and Patrick Jordan, to start) and national (Matt DeCaro and Mark Ulrich).

Mr. DeCaro's blathering judge is an admirable comic creation, high on his meds, and I wouldn't want to have to interrogate Mr. Jordan's defendant, who's able to hide in thickets of verbiage right in plain sight. The dueling attorneys are Mr. Whalen, in service of a cause he doesn't believe in until he surprisingly does, and Mr. Ulrich, all shocked probity as the prosecutor, until his private sex life erupts into court.

That's in the flamboyant person of Andrew Swackhamer, who turns out to connect the play's dots in ways we can hardly anticipate. Kevin Brown (the bailiff who's smarter than those he serves) and John E. Reilly (a doctor) round out this satisfying ensemble. Mr. Paul directs with dispatch.

The set is minimal, which is all the play needs. Staged in Dance Alloy's small hall, with the audience on two sides as if in a courtroom, "Romance" has a slam-bang immediacy.

Or do I mean fluff-poof? -- something lighter than you'd expect from these actors and this playwright, but maybe just right for these dog days.

Senior theater critic Christopher Rawson: 412-216-1944.


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