We're awful. We're cruel and self-centered and filled with personal hatreds and ludicrous solutions for world crises. But show us a little romance, and we get all squooshy. In the hands of David Mamet, the preposterousness of it all is wickedly yet endearingly hilarious. The truths of Romance are only slightly exaggerated--enough to make us howl with glee yet cringe in self-awareness.
The workplace and the home are our battlefields--here a courtroom and the living-room of the prosecuting attorney. Mamet crafts a defendant adept at twisting words, which annoys the easily annoyed prosecutor, who would normally be the star player of this game. The prosecutor lives a secret life. The defense attorney loathes his client, whom he can't control. The bailiff is brimming with homespun wisdom and self-important observations. But each character fades to gray in the presence of the overmedicated judge who at his best registers information several questions behind in the cross-examination and at his worst needs to remove his clothes and reveal to all his hopes and dreams for jurisprudence.
All is heightened here: language, style, messages, and, yes, more than a smattering of Mamet's favorite word. The only snag may be in Neil Pepe's pacing, which doesn't allow for the laughs nearly every line gets. On the other hand, the two acts, about 35 minutes each, are brisk. Pepe draws out heavenly performances from all, start to finish, as the actors honor the intent and language with clarity and charm: Ed Begley Jr. as the defense counsel, Jim Frangione as the prosecutor, Steven Goldstein as the defendant, Steven Hawley as the bailiff, and in other roles Noah Bean, whose lazzi are impeccable, and Todd Weeks. But best may be the way each keeps the stage in balance in the presence of the literally and figuratively towering performance, as the judge, of Larry Bryggman, who lives richly in the outskirts of reality.
Robert Brill's splendid set converts from courtroom to conference room to living room, with magnificent wood trim and that linoleum pattern of white streaks on black tiles that shouts, "You're on government property."