Love Among the Ruins 

Racists, cokeheads, and a guy named Bunny converge in Mamet's Romance

It's kind of warm for this time of year, isn't it? So muggy. And what about that oil spill? Why don't you stop your sniveling and have some fun: Head to Cuyahoga Falls and let None Too Fragile Theatre make you laugh so hard with their production of David Mamet's Romance that you'll spew something up.

Not exactly for the faint of heart, this raucous one-act features all of Mamet's trademark vulgarity, plus a load of racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-everything insults, along with some serious cocaine use. But the result is a dark comedy that's tighter than Snooki's tube top, thanks to a stellar cast. Opening in a courtroom where the Defendant, a chiropractor, is being grilled by a rabid Prosecuting Attorney (most characters have titles, not names), the case at hand is much less important than the process. And according to Mamet, the judicial process is a surreal and arbitrary clown show, overseen by a drug-addled Judge from hell.

Popping pills that keep him continually befuddled, the Magistrate snarls at the lawyers facing him when he isn't waxing rhapsodic about the Middle East peace conference taking place simultaneously in New York City. "The theme here is peace," he coos beatifically, paying no attention to the testimony being provided. Meanwhile, his Bailiff is calmly racking out a mound of cocaine on the judge's bench.

During a recess, the Catholic Defense Attorney and his Jewish Defendant adjourn to a side room, where they commence a tit-for-tat tirade against each other's religions. As they go for the rhetorical kill, the Bailiff sits through it all, working on a crossword puzzle.

And the P.A. doesn't have it much better, since he's wrestling with problems at home, where his partner Bernard (nickname Bunny) is prancing around in a satiny thong and three-inch mules, throwing a fit because the roast burned. They met when Bunny was manning the small leather-goods counter at Saks, but now the fragile and conflicted Bunny is almost constantly in tears.

All these mini tragedies eventually converge back in the courtroom, in a whirlwind of hope for world peace, a deluge of confessions and, against all odds, a happy gay couple.

The linchpin of the piece is the whacked-out Judge. Jim Viront is a virtual one-man Wikipedia of tics, tremors, and snap-turn digressions. After barely holding it together early on, the Judge ultimately loses his cool, not to mention his robe, and bares his seedy past.

As the Prosecuting Attorney, Richard Worswick is sharp and aggressive, while also showing a soft side with Bunny. And Ryan McMullen is flat-out hilarious as the mercurial Bunny, sobbing and attacking with equal fervor. By investing this gay stereotype with a tender heart (even as he kvetches about the burnt roast, he offers a Heloise tip on how to clean the pan), we understand why this is the one character who earned his name.

Gabe Riazi manages to make the Defendant likable, even when he's slippery on the stand and vicious in his anti-Catholic rants. As his counsel, Dane Lee holds his own but is in danger of being swept off the stage by some of the other performers. When the D.A. and his client decide to join forces and achieve Mid-East peace through subluxation of the conference attendees' spines, Mamet's foray into absurdity comes deliciously full circle.

Weirdly, the show is almost stolen by deadpan Robert Grant as the Bailiff, a character with very few words but with serious chemical-dependency issues. Often bleary-eyed, with his nose and lips dusted white from blow, he is the one person who tries to help all the others.

Director Sean Derry keeps the pace taut as his players often talk over and around each other, orchestrating chaos that is brutally funny from start to finish. And there's an ultimately sweet conclusion to all this strife that softens the anger and leads you back to the playwright's not-so-ironic title.

If Romance seems vaguely familiar, that's because it was done by the Bang and the Clatter Theatre four years ago. And now it is being reprised by None Too Fragile, a spin-off group headed by former Bang and Clatter stalwarts Derry and Alanna Romansky.

Occupying a small but tidy space on a pedestrian mall in Cuyahoga Falls, None Too Fragile's Romance shows the flash and sass — not to mention the superior acting quality — that made B&C a must-see venue. It's a summer treat as refreshing as a frosty watermelon martini. And just as addictive.

Send feedback to scene@clevescene.com.


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