Last night I had the opportunity to see David Mamet’s The Anarchist on Broadway. The play opened to poor reviews and will be closing next week. While it definitely wasn’t my favorite play of all time, it did launch an epic conversation between myself and the friend who invited me to see it with her.
My only prior exposure to Mamet’s work is some of the scripts he wrote for movies (The Verdict, The Untouchables, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Edge, The Spanish Prisoner, State and Main, and Hannibal). I haven’t seen any of his plays, though I am very aware of who he is and what his mark on theater is.
That being said, I walked into The Anarchist with higher than normal expectations (it’s Mamet) and walked away feeling underwhelmed but with a lot on my mind.
The Anarchist has two characters – a woman in prison for 35 years for killing two police officers (Patti LuPone’s character) and a woman representing the state who is to decide whether the prisoner is to go free or stay in jail (Debra Winger’s character). There was really no exposition and the audience is plopped down in the middle of a conversation. It took awhile for me to figure out what was going on, but eventually I gathered the basic plot (LuPone’s character killed people, while she was in prisoner she thought a lot about God and religion and wrote a book/manuscript). The characters were not that engaging and I couldn’t really sympathize with either of them.
While I was not entirely keen to the story (I have a personal problem of tuning out when people have lengthy monologues and dialogues about religion), I was completely interested (or rather uninterested) in the set and costumes.
The set was a couple of tables, some chairs and some filing cabinets. It wasn’t flashy, nor should it have been. The women’s costumes were similarly not flashy. For me, this was a distraction. LuPone’s prisoner garb was ill-fitting (read: too big) and the sea foam green of her jacket/pants were almost the exact same color of the chairs. Her body blended into her surroundings, as did her hair (which was a silvery gray and pulled back into a straight, flat ponytail). I get that she wasn’t supposed to be glamorous, but I also felt that she probably shouldn’t have completely disappeared into the set.
Winger’s costume was a pants suit. My immediate reaction to seeing her on stage was, “gosh, she looks very mannish.” I held this opinion throughout the entire play. Her pants were not super flattering, and she hiked them up much like a man would (pulling at the waistband, just so).
Both characters were quite mannish, to be honest, and I kept wondering how the play would have (or could have) been different if it were written for two men instead of two lesbian women. (Was this why they were mannish? If so, what a horrible stereotype.)
Winger’s character especially behaved very “manly.” Though both characters often sat with her legs wide open, Winger’s character spoke in a very low, monotone voice. She didn’t get emotional and was never really compassionate toward LuPone’s character (which, one could argue, made sense because LuPone’s character murdered two people…). I wonder if these stage directions were written in the original text of the play, or if the director (also Mamet) added that in during rehearsal.
It would appear that this play lacked fluidity. When discussing the show afterward with my friend, I commented how The Anarchist just didn’t flow. Though the entire play is a conversation, but it all felt clunky. Like, each woman delivered her line. And then the other woman delivered her line. And back and forth and back and forth. Though it felt a tad smoother (and more natural) toward the end of the play, the overall feeling of the show was bumpy for me. I never got sucked completely into the show… like, if a show is amazing, I’ll just get so caught up in it that I forget there are other people in the room. During this entire play, I was aware of my surroundings and heard every cough and cell phone (that should have been silenced, geez).
I wish I had something great to say about the “twist” in the ending, but it very much fizzled. There was potential for a big “ah-ha” moment and it just fell flat.
LuPone and Winger are talented, talented women and I very much admire their film and stage work (this is the third time I’ve seen LuPone on Broadway… and the second time within this calendar year). Their talents were not used to their utmost potential with this piece. And while I admire Mamet, I just don’t think he has managed to master writing for women (or writing for only women).
I wouldn’t recommend The Anarchist to the average show-goer, but I was very glad I saw it because it raised so many style and content questions. I had a really great conversation about the show with my friend and that’s really what good theater is all about. It makes you feel something and then want to keep talking about it afterward. (Plus, it totally helped that our tickets were comp. Free Broadway is always good Broadway in my eyes…)
The Anarchist is playing on Broadway at the Golden Theatre (252 W. 45th St) through Sunday December 16th.