Theater review: “THE ANARCHIST” by David Mamet starring Patti Lupone, Debra Winger
REVIEW: “THE ANARCHIST” the new David Mamet play with Patti Lupone and Debra Winger, is a one note work set in a female penitentiary. The two-woman drama involves Cathy/Patti Lupone, a longtime inmate with ties to a violent political organization, who pleads/argues and more precisely ‘debates’ for parole from the warden, Ann/Debra Winger.
The dress rehearsal performance was a privilege to attend with Mamet introducing the play. We settled in for the short 75 minute play. Half way through I stopped trying to figure out “what else there is to it” and realized there is nothing else to look for. It is an over intellectualized argument/debate on Cathy/Patti’s behalf as to why she should be paroled, espousing social theories, semantics, theology, grammar and finding religion.
One argument to be made is Cathy/Patti is so frightening because she is so superior in intellect that she really is going to win her parole on sheer intellect, knowledge of religion and human history, quoting philosophers and twisting Ann’s/Debra’s words. The answer is no. It is just a one note opinion on Mamet’s part ‘do the crime, do the time.’ No character layers are peeled back, nothing is revealed in either character, it is simply a flat plot you know will end one way or the other and half way through, it seems obvious Cathy/Patti’s place is assured in prison. (Spoiler alert: Cathy/Patti slips up in the end and seals her fate.) Yes it is revealed Cathy/Patti is a lesbian but when Ann/Debra ‘reveals’ the fact, it is just simply another mundane listing of the facts. There should have been sexual tension played up between the two women, this big pink elephant in the room and it wasn’t delved into at all and leaving you not caring. I couldn’t figure out whether it is miscast or that it is just badly directed since it just comes off as a listing of beliefs and a reciting of lines (Patti was the only one to ask for a “line”). It leaves you yearning for those great black/white prison films like ‘Caged’ or ‘Prison Heat’.
When Cathy/Patti declares she has found religion and tries to win/debate her freedom with religion – there is no zealot’s passion you would expect from let’s say an Aimee Semple McPherson. Maybe that’s why she’s supposed to be so scary – no the lines and dialog are flat and drone on. Patti just looks and seems ‘too comfortable’ – as if it was a sunny afternoon’s discussion in their sunny parlor. Her body language is nonchalant, almost bored. No desperacy, no passion, no gleefulness, no evil eye. Perhaps that was the point – I sadly think not, so again miscast or misdirected?
Debra Winger’s voice is the stronger voice and carries over the theater better than Patti’s voice (“the Patti mumble” was present). Winger looks absolutely terrific sporting a fit and trim figure.
The nitpicky details: Patti’s “prison” outfit looks like it came from Loehmans. What is it?? It’s certainly not a prison outfit, we were wondering if they were her street clothes, but this was a dress rehearsal, so guess not. That leads me to the next problem – no one could figure out the time period they are trying to evoke. The details don’t match up. Winger’s vs. Lupone’s clothes. The (lack of) hairstyles. The furniture and set are not consistent.
What annoyed me the most was something Winger did. She has a manuscript that Cathy/Patti has written. Winger also has a note pad of notes and various files. She refers to them constantly throughout the play to quote Cathy/Patti and put her in her place or to argue a point. Now…if you have 35 years of notes – Winger ‘magically’ found the quote every time she looked at any of the papers. She never had to thumb through them, turn the pages or search for a file – it was ridiculous. She simply just looked at these items without any sign of searching – bingo = there was the quote! It drove me nuts.
“The Anarchist” can be summarized in the misleading advertising in the red and black harsh graphics. Patti looks pissed and angry as all hell in the photo outside the Golden Theater and it is just simply a great contrast as to what you will find inside.
“THE ANARCHIST” at the Golden Theater, 252 West 45th Street/Broadway. New York City.
Hans Von Rittern (A Patti Lupone fan since “Evita.”)
Nov. 21, 2012: I am told Patti Lupone is now wearing a grey (aged) wig in the show.
December 2, 2012 POSTSCRIPT: I have been redeemed by Ben Brantley in The New York Times in his review! “And so the debate begins. Wearing horn rims and a navy pantsuit, Ann has the severe air of a bureaucratic don who has done her research. She is armed with annotated manuscripts and files. (Amazing, isn’t it, how people in plays can always instantly find the exact passage they’re looking to quote?) She is fully prepared to spar with Cathy — the product of a rich family and illustrious schools — on semantic distinctions between “conscience” and “consciousness,” in English versus French.” Hmmmm where have I read that before <grin>.
A summary of all the reviews, unanimously negative: http://www.didhelikeit.com/shows/the-anarchist.html
THE ANARCHIST WILL CLOSE DUE TO BAD NOTICES DECEMBER 16.