Associated Press, March 2, 2005

Photo: Sara Krulwich

"Romance a roller-coaster ride"
by Michael Kuchwara

NEW YORK -- Outrageousness is on tap at "Romance," the oddly named, but often deliriously funny David Mamet farce, receiving its world premiere at off-Broadway's Atlantic Theater.

Did we say "David Mamet" and "farce" in the same sentence? Yes, indeed. It's not a genre usually associated with the tough-guy author of "American Buffalo," "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "Oleanna."

But farce it is, often quite demented -- and politically incorrect -- as it skewers everybody and everything including Jews, Catholics, gays, the Middle East peace process, the American judicial system and more.

In "Romance," Mamet is at his most adept, balancing language, character and story in a roller-coaster ride through a trial in which logic and concern for the niceties of law never make it into the courtroom.

The cast runs through the play with athletic precision -- and scores. They are superb, particularly Larry Bryggman, who portrays a pill-popping, often blissfully unaware judge.

Bryggman is one of the New York theater's great unsung heroes. The rest of the country may know him primarily as Dr. John Dixon on the CBS soap opera "As the World Turns." Yet this veteran actor is a mainstay of Broadway and off-Broadway theater, having most recently appeared in the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of "Twelve Angry Men."

He also is the engine that revs up "Romance," which is set in an anonymous modern-day courtroom. Its trial unfolds the same day a big Middle East peace conference is taking place in New York. In fact, the judge seems more concerned with what is happening outside the courtroom than what is going on within its walls.

On trial is a chiropractor (Steven Goldstein) who spars not only with the prosecutor (Bob Balaban) but with his own attorney (Christopher Evan Welch) as well.

The chiropractor's answers on the stand are maddeningly evasive, which frustrates the prosecutor, who seems to be on the verge of a breakdown. But then, the man is having a bad day with his petulant, thong-wearing boy toy (Keith Nobbs).

Add to the mix a stoic bailiff (Steven Hawley) and a doctor (Jim Frangione), who makes a last-minute appearance to help wrap up things, and you have the entire cast of characters.

The story, if you can it that, concerns the judge's attempt to help the peace process, while ignoring the mayhem that fills his courtroom.

But then plot is not actually paramount in "Romance," and its outlines are often lost in a dizzy parade of non sequiturs and zingers, many of them laced, in typical Mamet fashion, with four-letter words.

What farce does require is a definite momentum, and director Neil Pepe never lets that forward motion lag at the Atlantic. This "Romance" is inspired, nonstop foolishness.