David Mamet is arguably the best living playwright in America today. He certainly writes the fastest dialogue, expertly conveying the uncertainty of everyday speech. Mamet is the master of the interruption, and he hardly ever allows a character to finish a thought before the next frenzied altercation takes over. Incomplete and uncertain scraps of dialogue fly back and forth across the stage like fireflies caught in a hurricane. Alan Swerdlow has caught these rapid-fire exchanges beautifully, seamlessly weaving together the inchoate thoughts and half-phrases which make up a large part of the play.
Romance takes place (or, rather, unravels) in a courtroom. We never find out what the charges are that have been brought against the defendant, since the overdosed judge almost immediately heads off on a series of rambling tangents encompassing religion, peace, sexuality and world politics. For the most part there's little by way of narrative progression, since the story peaks about ten minutes in, and the rest consists of a prolonged climax of frenetic exchanges.
Anthony Fridjhon plays the part of the raving judge who presides at the centre of this hysteria. He plays the part of this slightly senile (and increasingly psychotic) character with lovely pacing. His vague attempts at dignity, and frequent vacillations between menace and joviality, make for almost faultless comic characterisation. I'd be very surprised if Fridjhon doesn't pick up a nomination for next year's comedy Naledi for this one.
The piece is loud and the language harsh. The overt masculinity of a Mamet text is in evidence from the start and Romance is redolent with displays of various forms of bombast – swearing, swaggering, shouting – in a celebration of exuberant machismo. Audiences are warned that hardly anyone will leave the theatre without having been insulted in some way or another, as Mamet ruthlessly offends and mocks all sacred cows he encounters.
The humour is feverish, but at the same time, it seeks neither to inform nor
to reform. Although it does touch on the subject of the crisis in the Middle
East, it shies away from any serious reflection on the issue. The play is essentially
a farce, and ridicules any attempt to resolve the conflict or to reflect on
its origin. It seems to play to the old joke that "anybody who claims to
understand the conflict in the Middle East has clearly been misinformed".
And yet, by ridiculing the possibility of peace, Mamet is, in effect, saying
that there is no solution, and that things will simply carry on as before. In
a sense this plays to the conscience of many of the players in the conflict.
Still, it's a lot of fun, and Swerdlow expertly guides a talented cast through a slick and clever piece. So it's a great night out, even if it leaves one with little to chew on.
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