The Anarchist is a brief (in length and run) new play by David Mamet. It features two characters on stage for an uninterrupted 70 minutes. Cathy (played by Patti LuPone) is a convict serving her 35th year and Ann (played by Debra Winger) is a wardenesque woman serving her last day at the penitentiary. They are together performing the dance of “I’d like to be released now please.” And the dance is not well choreographed.
Cathy proclaims her interest in Christianity as an indication of her worthiness of release. This device is a bit blurry. She was born and raised by Jews (who it would appear gave her the name Catherine) and has discovered the New Testament in prison. Does she speak with the fervor of a tent preacher to impress the cross wearing Ann? If not, why work so much of the theology into the dialogue? A sense of urgency is implied with the device of Ann’s last day, but why? Ann is not particularly lenient or empathetic. Maybe Cathy’s chances for being sprung will improve with a new administrator. If there is dramatic tension it’s buried too deeply to detect.
Mamet’s dialogue seems to have undergone a conversion as well. A Sunday school teacher would be pleased. However the rhythm is still quintessential Mamet. Ms. Lupone is comfortably at home in this musicality. She is at complete ease and utterly graceful with the dialogue. Ms. Winger is much less so and is not served well by Mr. Mamet’s direction. He has created a wooden and opaque portrayal in her Ann.
There are certainly interesting ideas conveyed throughout the play. Cathy’s (Weather Underground) crimes promise to evoke mixed feelings in audiences of a certain age. The psycho/social scholar will be intrigued with the debate over rehabilitation. There is also much to gain from watching Ms. LuPone stripped of song and embracing her dramatic roots. But watching The Anarchist is more akin to watching a (good) poetry reading than a play. Inserting dramatic tension into the script, recasting the role of Ann, and not having the playwright as director might result in a nice little play.