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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Almeida Theatre           Autumn 2005

David Mamet's newest play is an only partially successful attempt at a farce.

Though his previous plays have made it clear that Mamet has a wicked sense of humour, he is not a natural farceur, and for too much of the play you can see him working too hard at trying to make things funny.

He - and Lindsay Posner's production - eventually get there, and the last half of the play is as wildly funny as you could want. But, despite the brevity of the whole thing (barely ninety minutes, even with interval) you may find the getting-there a bit of a slog.

The play opens in a courtroom, with a judge whose hay fever medicine is making him groggy and inclined to stray from the case at hand to ruminations on a peace conference in town, while the defendant does his best not to answer the questions of the increasingly frustrated prosecutor.

A second scene finds the Jewish defendant and his church-going Republican lawyer at loggerheads, and a slip of the tongue and mental censor by one soon has them trading ethnic and religious insults with escalating vehemence, vulgarity and inventiveness.

Need I remind you that Mamet is the poet laureate of masculine obscenities? By this point in the play we've already heard all the standard four-letter words in familiar and imaginative permutations, so now he explores the shocking, comic and - yes - liberating power of Political Incorrectness.

We watch, first in shock and then in fascination, as the opportunity to speak the unspeakable energises the two men and raises the scene to a height of obscene comedy.

O. K. If just hearing the standard offensive anti-Semitic words or offensive comments about paedophile priests is going to upset you, don't see the play.

But something else is going on here the progressive and uninhibited elevation of this verbal violence to absurd extremes, so that it becomes the linguistic equivalent of a pie in the face. And it is almost worth the price of admission just to see Mamet and the actors pull it off.

After a weak third scene used just to introduce a couple of gay characters, we're back in the courtroom for the farcical finale.

The judge's new medication now makes him manic, so he can't keep his mind on any topic for more than a few seconds. The defendant has come up with a plan for world peace. The gay couple are squabbling. Somehow Shakespeare becomes a topic of conversation.

And with a half-dozen things going on at once, we again get the linguistic equivalent of farce, of people running in and out of doors or hiding under beds, of Groucho talking faster than anyone else can think. And it is very funny.

With a cast made up of excellent actors who are no more instinctively farceurs than Mamet is, we are also too aware through too much of the play of them trying to be funny.

Only John Mahoney as the Judge equally out of it whether zonked or speeding has the comic flair to make it look easy, though Nigel Lindsay and Colin Stinton bring infectious energy to the scene of traded insults.


Gerald Berkowitz

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