ROMANCE by David Mamet, directed by Irene Poole (Pilot Group). At CanStage Upstairs (26 Berkeley). Runs to June 10. $20-$25. See Continuing, page 184. 416-368-3110. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Walking into canstage's upstairs theatre, the first thing you see on the wide stage is a very naturalistic-looking courtroom. Aha, you think, another legal comedy. The title of the play, after all, is Romance . Sparring lawyers in love? Corruption and carnality? Not so fast.
David Mamet 's not your typical playwright, and his title is an intentional misnomer. The judge has barely put on his gown before he's popping too many antihistamines, the lawyers start fighting and the courtroom explodes with racist and homophobic put-downs.
Set in an unnamed city embroiled in high-level talks about achieving peace in the Middle East, the play makes one obvious point over and over. How can we hope to solve huge international problems if we can't even get along with each other?
The vague plot involves a cagey defendant ( David Ferry ) who's denying bits of evidence, such as his credit card receipt signature for a trip to Hawaii. His fight with his attorney ( Paul Eves ) ends in expletive-filled chaos, as does the prosecutor's ( Stewart Arnott ) out-of-court talk with his young male lover, Bernard ( Brendan Gall ), for some reason the only character with a name in the script.
Mamet, of course, is no stranger to plays about high-stakes confrontation, but it's unclear apart from the peace theme what he's attacking here. The closed-door world of old boys' club negotiations? (Women are barely mentioned in the play.) Political correctness in the legal system? The anti-gay remarks (let's hope this is the last time we hear "Shakespeare" and "fag" in the same sentence) might almost be taken as a straight white male's comment on the prevalence of gay artists in contemporary American theatre.
On the other hand, Mamet could simply be attempting, unsuccessfully, old-fashioned farce.
It's too bad Irene Poole, who's a very good actor, chose this play to make her directing debut. Broad comedy is tough to pull off, especially when the subtext is so vague. The actors motor through the script with some conviction, all except the wooden Eves, who loses focus halfway through. The only stand-out is Ferry, who rips into his nasty dialogue with glee and has mastered the poetic streetwise rhythms of Mamet-speak.