To take David Mamet seriously on politics or theater is to espy enemies everywhere. Look! Brain-dead liberals enervate our self-reliant national character! See! Politically correct playwrights befoul the stage with namby-pamby melodramas! And we’ll always have the eternal plague of ignorant, parasitic critics. But after attending The Anarchist, a Mamet first draft rubber-stamped for Broadway, I wish the writer would take up his pearl-handle princess mirror and gaze on the enemy within.
Mamet should not direct his own work, nor should he have cast Patti LuPone as Cathy, a prisoner serving life for a political murder, and Debra Winger as Ann, her warden. These talented actors can’t get their brains or mouths around Mamet’s heady, machine-gun rhetoric (the sort of congested prose and grandiose sophistry found in his recent essays). The two circle each other for 70 minutes as Cathy attempts to negotiate parole so she can visit her dying father. Ann, meanwhile, doggedly tries to elicit a confession from the convict, who claims to have found solace in Jesus. Their declamations are punctuated by dramatically convenient rings from a phone (rotary, for no apparent reason).
Although it’s less a play than a metaphysical duologue on guilt, forgiveness and the power of the state over the individual, the piece has more dramatic intensity than Mamet’s smug and flabby Race. Unfortunately, his overwhelmed actors and propensity for flat staging make the chase dull and the ideas cloudy. Certainly, the theater has enemies: obscenely high production costs; gutless or philistine producers; and, yes, idiotic critics. But with The Anarchist, Mamet has capitulated to the worst of them: boredom.—David Cote
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