All through this season at the A.R.T., I’ve been pondering Romance while working on other projects. I’ve made it a point to try and re-read the text at least once a week. Back in January, I sat down for another trip through the play as President Obama’s inauguration played on a nearby TV. When I finally put two and two together, I grabbed a post-it and frantically scribbled a note: “This changes everything for Romance.” How could a farce that mocks our social differences succeed in an era of supposed unity?
Two weeks of rehearsal has calmed my fears. Hearing our cast deliver the play has reminded me that it is the ultimate equal-opportunity offender. Mamet goes out of his way to poke fun at every race, religion, sexual orientation, profession, nationality, and political viewpoint. I often have the image of Mamet sitting beside a list of special interest groups, checking each one off as he created the play’s dialogue. In fact, the Romance team created our own list of those lambasted in the play. It is an exhaustive list.
Writing these blog entries as I watch the news, I’m reminded that we may not be as united as we’d like to believe. The current string of tea-bag protests and the Texas governor’s threats of secession may be taken as humorous here in Boston, but this division is precisely what Mamet inflates and capitalizes on in Romance. He dares us to laugh at our differences, detonating our national traditions of political correctness and censored speech.
The technique has become a hallmark of Mamet’s work after Romance. His most recent Broadway hit November decimates the sanctity of the Oval Office, presenting the fictitious president as a swindling crook and anti-hero. Mamet turns the political speech into the stuff of farce in November, just as Romance mocks “legalese” lawyer-speak. If Mamet advocates for anything in these farces, it is for us to take ourselves less seriously.