Aurélia’s Oratorio is coming back! This show played to sold-out houses this winter, so if you weren’t able to get a ticket then, now is your chance. Aurélia will be back at the Loeb for just two weeks, July 22 – August 2.
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.
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.
There are two different farces going on at Zero Church Street: David Mamet’s Romance, and the zany process of actually trying to rehearse it. This group of company members and students could make me laugh at the phone book. But Romance has an unbelievable amount of shtick per page. There’s a seemingly endless stream of material for us to mine.
Right now, we’re spending most of our time decoding Mamet’s text. The dialogue of Romance is an incredibly intricate road map of pauses, periods, and commas. The process can be tiring, but the resulting dialogue is lively, dense, and worth the effort. Today, we spent three hours on just one section of one scene. Tommy Derrah, fresh off our production of Endgame, remarked that “this stuff is harder to crack than Beckett.” Fellow Endgamers Will LeBow and Remo Airaldi chuckled in agreement.
What constantly impresses me as I watch Scott Zigler and the cast tackle the text is the sheer ambition of Mamet’s dramaturgy. Most contemporary playwrights focus on two or three person dialogue. Mamet’s own most famous hits (Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo) revolve around two-handed scenes. But for Romance’s courtroom scenes, which make up most the text, Mamet keeps five to seven characters fully engaged in the action at all times. Continuously developing this entire cast of characters is a huge feat, and unpacking these rich scenes is keeping us plenty busy.
A few photos from our Trojan Barbie Barbie Doll art exhibit opening event at SPACE 242. These and other fine art masterpieces inspired by or made with Barbie Dolls will be on display at SPACE 242 through April 17. Gallery Hours: Friday evenings 6:30-8 p.m. and by appointment. Co-sponsored by The Weekly Dig. Photos by Derek Kouyoumjian.
Playwright Christine Evans said, “I’m not interested in simply taking a play and dressing it in modern clothes without creating a real dialogue between the past and the present.” How did this dialogue between the past and the present resonate for you?
Please feel free to share any other thoughts on the production.