Monday, December 3, 2012

theatre review THE ANARCHIST, Broadway, Nov. 27

David Mamet's new play The Anarchist opened on Broadway last night.  And while it is not your typical Mamet play, with no swear words and a major lack of Mamet's usual staccato, rapid fire style of dialogue, it is still your typical Mamet play in that it has manipulating characters and particular attention to the use of language as a manipulation tool.

If you know nothing about this play going into it, for the first 10 or so minutes the setting could be any office space and the two female characters could be co-workers.  But then you discover that Cathy, played by Patti LuPone, is a prisoner serving a life sentence for killing two policemen after turning away from her wealthy upbringing and taking up with a radical group similar to what happened to Patty Hearst.  Debra Winger is Ann the warden/parole board member who represents the state in determining if she is fit for parole.  We quickly also learn that Ann is the only one deciding Cathy's fate, so Cathy does whatever she can to get Ann on her side.

There are two sides to the argument that Mamet presents and while Cathy has had an exemplary record during her 35 year sentence and has found Jesus and written a book about her new beliefs, there are still questions that Ann has about information and the location of Cathy's accomplice and lover that she believes Cathy may know.  And while Cathy attempts to pull out all stops to get released, Ann is basically only going to do that if she gets something in return.  So the big question is really, Who's manipulating who?   Mamet has created an interesting play about seduction and manipulation between two women where language is the seduction tool.

Patti LuPone and Debra Winger
The character of Cathy is somewhat based on Judith Clark, a member of the Weather Underground Organization who was arrested for the 1981 armed robbery of a Brinks security truck where two police officers and the trucks driver were killed.   Clark is still in prison for her participation in the killings.

Mamet directs the play and LuPone proves very capable at handling Mamet's language and creating a character that you want to believe at one moment but then start to doubt the next.   While Winger is playing the less dramatic part she still manages to not get lost in Mamet's words or come across as being taken over by LuPone.  Her enunciation was even clearer and more earthy, stronger and focused then LuPone's, not too bad since this is Winger's Broadway debut.  And while some of Winger's line readings seemed very monotone I have to believe that is Mamet's direction and not a fault of Winger.  This is especially true for the first third of the play when we don't quite know where Winger stands and by having a more monotone deliver it comes across as not being judgemental or having already made a decision, which I believe was a good choice on Mamet's part, assuming that was his intention.

While the dialogue in the play is more closer to the way people really talk then in most of Mamet's other plays, there is still a forced nature to the proceedings that makes it somewhat unrealistic.  The 65 minute running time and the very abrupt ending are also a little odd.

While Mamet hasn't exactly crafted a fireworks type showdown between these two characters and the two award winning actresses that play them, he has created an interesting play that makes you pay attention to the opposite points of view as well as a lesson in the art of manipulation.   Various other themes abound including redemption, religion, politics, humility and even lesbianism. 

The Anarchist runs through February 17th.

Official Website

LuPone and Winger talk about the play:

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