ROMANCE IN D, Victory Gardens Theater. James Sherman's best and most successful play was Beau Jest, about a Jewish girl eager to please her parents who hires a man to play her Jewish fiance. Premiered in 1989, it fit the era like a glove: its comic explorations of uptight duplicity, bad faith, and the halfhearted yearning for moral values perfectly mirrored the bogus traditionalism of George Bush's America.
But times change. The mainstream culture has loosened up. Even my mother now jokes about tattoos and body piercing. But Sherman still writes as if it were 1989. And certainly his latest effort--a dispiriting, slow-paced romantic comedy about a pair of losers who are still alone and emotionally dependent on their parents as they drift into middle age--can't hold a candle to Beau Jest. Part of the problem is that Sherman--goaded on, I suspect, by director Dennis Zacek, with whom he works closely during development--continues to play to the most conservative of Victory Gardens' blue-haired subscribers. Why else would the playwright put so many restraints on his work? Why would he pull so many comic punches when he gets close to an emotionally charged subject? Why would he continually set up such highly dramatic situations as the suicide attempt that begins Romance in D, only to ditch them when things get uncomfortable?
This time, however, Sherman and Zacek's restraint has backfired. On opening night only a few audience members, presumably the most easily amused, laughed their way through Sherman's predictable plot twists and Zacek's timid, uninspired production.