I wish I could take David Mamet as seriously as he takes himself.
In his new play, “The Anarchist,” Patti LuPone plays Cathy, a woman seeking parole after 35 years in prison for her part in the murder of two policemen.
During that time, she has renounced the youthful radicalism that provided the backdrop to her deadly actions, been a model prisoner and found Jesus. What she hasn’t done is assist in finding her partner in the crime.
Ann, a parole officer played by Debra Winger in her Broadway debut, begins the play doubtful about Cathy’s rehabilitation. What if she’s faking remorse in order to get out? What about her dead victims?
Ann’s questioning is occasionally interrupted by phone calls from the family of one of the policemen. This seems to stack the deck against her, though she nevertheless rises to the occasion with thoughtful answers to Ann’s probing.
Mamet has written in the New York Times that “The Anarchist” was inspired by his post-9/11 thinking; by President Barack Obama’s relationship with former Weather Underground radical Bill Ayers; and the case of Kathy Boudin, who participated in the 1981 robbery of a Brink’s armored truck that resulted in the deaths of two policemen and a guard.
Despite the charged issues behind this dialog, the back and forth between Ann and Cathy is bloodless. Sample:
Cathy: Have you done nothing, in your youth...
Ann: Or, in plainer English, Enemies may be reconciled if one or both admit they were wrong. If they recant, revise or surrender their position. Which do we find here?
Cathy: I don’t know.
These -- all the lines, in fact -- are delivered in flat, uninflected tones, presumably at the urging of the playwright, who also directed. LuPone and Winger are restrained to the point of somnambulance. Even at just 70 intermissionless minutes, “The Anarchist” is a challenge to sentience.
The end won’t surprise anyone who has watched Mamet evolve from electrifying poet of American vernacular (see the flawed revival of his 1984 “Glengarry Glen Ross,” running just a few doors up the block) to chin-stroking moralist with an increasingly constipated world view. For better or worse, the season provides a view of the compleat Mamet.
Through Feb. 17 at the Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. 877-250-2929. Rating: **
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(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Elin McCoy on wine and Katya Kazakina on art.
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