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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Well, Mr. Mamet is still writing. And with The Penitent he has returned to his home base, the Atlantic Theater which he co-founded. With a director and three actors' who've been long time prime interpreters of his style on board, it should be a triumphant homecoming.
But alas, while the play's seven pas de deux scenes have the actors speak in familiar Mametian rhythms, what once had snap, crackle and pop now feels unnatural, forced and, yes, boring. Despite his affinity for Mamet, director Neil Pepe's staging doesn't help. Chris Bauer, as the main character who's always on stag fares best, and his scenes with Jordan Large, another Mamet acolyte, come closest to being compelling; however, not enough so to rescue this from not just minor but painfully disappointing Mamet territory.
That said, my last update of our Playwright Album's Mamet chapter required a major update. That update went back nine years, when two major revivals of the top tier Mamet plays, Speed-the-Plow and American Buffalo, were on Broadway and another, Oleana, was headed there.
Mamet was clearly more than ever a superstar. Revivals of his plays, that in their original permutations were an actor's ticket to fame, now had no problem casting actors with established ticket selling reputations. A new Mamet play like his November, even though bottom rather than top drawer, could open on Broadway and stay afloat for a reasonably successful stay.
I couldn't think of a living playwright as prolific and in so many areas of the cultural spectrum, except perhaps Harold Pinter. Clearly, at age 60, Mamet's creative biological clock was still ticking. I consequently anticipated that our Mamet backgrounder would continue to require updates for new works as well as noteworthy revivals.
Unfortunately, Mamet's last two Broadway outings, did not add any new jewels to the playwright's crown. Despite Debra Winger and Patti LuPone above the marquee, The Anarchist was practically dead on arrival, and closed in less than a month.
Two seasons ago, China Doll arrived on Broadway with the double cachet of Mamet and Al Pacino. It was less depressing and more entertaining, but again sub-prime Mamet, as well as sub-prime Pacino.
Yet Mamet still generates enough interest for the Atlantic Theater's Main stage to be packed, as it was when I was there last Friday. But the more intimate setting and and welcome absence f star-casting hoopla, The Penitent has nevertheless put the playwright into "3 strikes and you're out" free fall
So just why is this the fatal third strike for a playwright I've always found stimulating? Let me count the ways.
Frankly, The Penitent is less a play than a series of arguments designed to stick it to the unethical behavior in the legal, psychiatric, media and religious community. (President Trump isn't the only one with a dark view of America's institutions). Mr. Mamet's conservative, drum pounding religiosity seems to have overtaken his ability to excite and electrify.As a working editor, I was struck by the fact that our anti-hero's downfall begins with a typo —he mistyped a word in the headline of an article for a professional publication, accidentally substituting "adaptation" for "aberration." Too bad Charles and his editor didn't follow the copy editing rule about having at least five pairs of eyes examine a script before publication. Of course, if that rule had been observed, this play might never have happened. On the other hand, it might have been given some more thought by its creator.
For our David Mamet Playwrights' Album Chapter with links to plays by him that we've reviewed, go here.
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The Penitent by David Mamet
Directed by artistic director Neil Pepe
Cast: Lawrence Gilliard Jr.(Attorney), Chris Bauer (Charles), Jordan Lage (Richard), Rebecca Pidgeon (Kath)
Scenic design by Tim Mackabee
Costume design by Laura Bauer
Lighting design by Donald Holder
Stage Manager: Mary Kathryn Flynt
Running time: 75 minutes with 1 intermission
Atlantic Theater Linda Gross Theater 336 West 20th Street
From 2/08/17; opening 2/17/18; closing 3/26/17
Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Sunday evening performance 7pm: 2/12, 2/19, 3/5 Wednesday matinees 2pm
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on March 3rd
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