Peace in Our Time? Mamet Addresses the Absurd Question in Romance, Opening March 1

News   Peace in Our Time? Mamet Addresses the Absurd Question in Romance, Opening March 1 Following 17 revivals of plays by its co-founder, David Mamet, Off-Broadway's Atlantic Theater Company is finally staging a world premiere by the Pulitzer Prize-winner, and its colors are unlike anything Mamet's painted before.
Bob Balaban in Romance
Bob Balaban in Romance Photo by Gerry Goodstein

Following previews since Feb. 9, Romance opens March 1 under the direction of Neil Pepe, the troupe's artistic director. The oddly topical play is set in a courtroom in New York during a week when there are Middle East peace talks being brokered in town. The court case at hand it unrelated, but the defendant and counsel come up with a plan to solve conflict in the region.

A pill-popping judge, a defendant and lawyer (on the same side) who hate each other, a prosecutor with a troubled personal life are part of the picture.

"It's certainly the first out-and-out farce he's ever written," Pepe told Playbill.com. "He calls it a farce, and I think structurally and story-wise, it is a farce. I appreciate it because I think Mamet's an extremely underrated comic writer. You see so many wonderful shades of comedy in many of his other plays, and certainly in screenplays like 'State and Main,' 'Wag the Dog' and 'Things Change.' It's such a pleasure to be working on a straight comedy from him, because I think he's got such a wonderful and outrageous sense of humor."

In Romance, "there are elements that have echoed throughout many of his works that are pure Mamet — his wonderful, poetic, irreverent use of words," Pepe said. "But as a whole, structurally, I think it's very different, which I kind of love about it. I like that he constantly keeps you guessing, too. I never like to use the word 'style,' but you're never quite sure what's going on and it kind of keeps turning these odd corners which are always interesting and somewhat hilarious."

Is the play a critique of our justice system? Pepe said, "It is kind of a wonderful thing that the play is saying: Those places — a courtroom, or the justice system — that we're supposed to look to to make sense of many things in society in some ways can be the root of more absurdity than any other place. He's looking at so many things that we hold to be black and white…the laws of society, whether it's being PC, whether it's dealing with the judicial system, whether it's dealing with the idea of fidelity, or how we view each other as different races and different religions. I kind of love that he says let's put it all on the table, let's tell the truth. That can either be painful or not very funny. In the case of this play, sometimes it's very funny and sometimes it's highly uncomfortable. I always love that about great comedies; I used to feel that way about Joe Orton's comedies as well.

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Interest in the new comedy has been so high that two weeks were added to the run before its first performance began. ATC artistic director Neil Pepe directs the play, running at ATC's Chelsea neighborhood space to April 17.

Mamet founded the Manhattan company with actor William H. Macy more than 20 years ago (its roots are in classes the pair taught in the early '80s at NYU.) According to the company, "Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet returns to Atlantic with his new farce set in a modern day courtroom that explores issues ranging from our current judicial system to the Middle East conflict, fidelity and World peace."

The ensemble features Atlantic Theater Company members Larry Bryggman (Twelve Angry Men, two-time Tony Award nominee for Proof and Picnic), Steven Goldstein (Broadway's Our Town), Steven Hawley (Atlantic's Richard Cory) and guest artists Bob Balaban (produced and appeared in the Academy and Golden Globe Award winning film "Gosford Park"), Jim Frangione (Broadway's The Old Neighborhood), Keith Nobbs (Broadway's The Lion in Winter) and Christopher Evan Welch (Broadway's The Crucible).

Mamet's plays include Glengarry Glen Ross (Pulitzer Prize for Drama), The Cryptogram, The Water Engine, A Life in the Theatre, American Buffalo, Edmond, Lakeboat, Boston Marriage, Dr. Faustus, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, Speed-the-Plow, The Old Neighborhood, Oleanna and more.

As a filmmaker, "Spartan" marked Mamet's ninth film as writer-director. His critically acclaimed debut feature "House of Games," was selected to close the New York Film Festival in 1987. He followed this with "Things Change," co-written with Shel Silverstein; "Homicide"; "Oleanna" (the sole film he has adapted and directed from one of his plays); "The Spanish Prisoner"; "The Winslow Boy," an adaptation of the famed Terrence Rattigan play; and "State and Main," starring William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rebecca Pidgeon.

Designers are Robert Brill (scenic), James S. Ingalls (lighting), Sarah Edwards (costume) and Obadiah Eaves (sound).

Atlantic Theater Company is based at 336 W. 20th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues). Romance plays Tuesday through Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 & 8 PM and Sundays at 3 & 7:30 PM.

Tickets are $55 and available by calling Tele-Charge at (212) 239-6200 or visiting Atlantic’s website at www.atlantictheater.org.

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Atlantic Theater Company (Neil Pepe, artistic director; Andrew D. Hamingson, managing director) is the award winning Off-Broadway theater dedicated to producing great plays simply and truthfully utilizing an artistic ensemble. Atlantic believes that the story of the play and the intent of the playwright are at the core of the creative process. Since its inception in 1985, Atlantic has produced more than 90 plays including the Tony Award winning production of The Beauty Queen Of Leenane, the world premieres of Woody Allen's A Second Hand Memory and Writer's Block, the American premieres of Blue/Orange, Dublin Carol and The Night Heron, the New York premiere of The Cider House Rules, the revivals of American Buffalo and Edmond, Mojo, Minutes From The Blue Route and Hobson's Choice. Atlantic maintains an ensemble of acclaimed actors, writers and directors including co-founders David Mamet (playwright and director) and William H. Macy (Academy Award nominee for "Fargo") among others.

From Left: Steven Hawley, Larry Bryggman, Christopher Evan Welch, Bob Balaban and Steven Goldstein in <i>Romance</i>
From Left: Steven Hawley, Larry Bryggman, Christopher Evan Welch, Bob Balaban and Steven Goldstein in Romance Photo by Gerry Goodstein