Posted on June 1, 2009
We went to Cambridge on Sunday to see the American Repertory Theater’s staging of David Mamet’s Romance, a courtroom farce. When I think of Mamet I think of terse, tough dialogue and serious minded plays like American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross. He is willing to write for what I think are pretty poor television shows (see The Unit) and create screenplays for better movies (Wag the Dog), but this play was an immense disappointment.
In his defense, it makes no bones about being a farce and if I had thought about it for a moment, I would have remembered that I can’t think of any farce that I like. That hasn’t changed. Mamet’s send up of the courtroom drama was well acted and Will LeBow (as the judge) and Thomas Derrah (the prosecutor) almost save the thing, but the political incorrectness that was supposed to be so shocking was tepid really. Any fan of The Simpsons or The Family Guy or South Park routinely see send ups far more outrageous than anything Mamet had to offer on stage.
Moreover, those animated shows often offer some of the most biting and intelligent social satire available in popular culture, and there was really nothing like that discernible in yesterday’s play. ART is a terrific theater and even the best theaters will disappoint from time to time, but I can’t imagine what the Artistic Director envisioned with Romance. That said, there is something magical about live theater that film and television can rarely achieve.