A Laughable Tech

Tuesday, May 5, 2009:

I’m writing from the first night of tech rehearsal. Sitting inside rehearsal rooms for the past few weeks, I had no concept of just how enormous the scale of our production is. Mamet’s plays are typically performed on unit sets with simple lighting instruments, set pieces, and props. Our version of Romance uses a string of giant moving set pieces, gyroscoping lights, stage blood, and smoke machines. At first glance, this gear is better suited to a rock concert than a Mamet play.

But once we began running sequences from the show, I realized just how well the massive scale of our productions meshes with the ambitions of Mamet’s text. The A.R.T. is known for Mamet works like Oleanna, a realistic, two-character piece that takes place in a tiny office. But Romance is a larger-than-life farce. Actors throw roasting pans and insults across the courtroom with reckless abandon. We’ve thrown in plenty of tricks, zany sound effects, and even a strip-tease or two.

Scott’s staging also takes advantage of one of the text’s greatest strengths: a great sense of farcical acceleration. At first glance, the play’s opening scene is nearly free of farce. It could easily be a scene from this week’s episode of Law and Order. Slowly but surely, Mamet tightens the screws. Polite disagreement turns into schoolyard name-calling. A wisecracking judge becomes a pill-popping maniac. An ordered courtroom descends into comic chaos.

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