PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER: Patti LuPone Talks Mamet and The Anarchist

By Adam Hetrick
08 Dec 2012

LuPone in The Anarchist.
Photo by Joan Marcus

So, what keeps you hungry as an actor?
PL: Good material. It's really only that. I read a lot of bad material and it's depressing. But when it's good material, you can't wait to get on stage. I'm a stage rat, so that's where I want to be. I want to be on stage acting. This is truly, truly among the most challenging things I've ever done. It was one of the hardest things to memorize.

Audiences have only been given some buzz words about The Anarchist: Passion, redemption, deception, revolution. Can you elaborate a bit on what you feel it's about?
PL: I think it's ideas. It's an argument. David is presenting two sides of an argument. I play a prisoner who has served a life-term, she's been in prison 35 years, and she's had an exemplary record in the prison system. She's meeting with a fictional character, someone who doesn't really exist in the penal system, but is somebody who will judge me and determine whether I am fit to go in front of the parole board. And this is a long relationship that I have had with this same woman after 35 years. She is trying to find out whether I am suitable to go in front of the parole board. And I am trying to convince her I am. If anybody knows anything about politics in the 60's they will recognize a character. You'll recognize certain aspects if you know the politics of the revolution.

What is the atmosphere like in the rehearsal room? It's just the three of you, essentially, right?
PL: It's a loving environment. It's a protective environment. David loves actors and he loves the theatre. Where else would you like to be? Like I said, I love being in the room with David. It's fun and instructive. I can't think of a better rehearsal period. You want joy in the experience. He's right there listening and directing. There has been a great deal of rewriting and editing. That's what I love about David. He's not precious with his work — he wants to make it clear. David wants clarity. Also, it's work. Debra and I are just getting up to speed. I'm the kind of actor who loves a long run because on the last performance I get it. You have all that time to investigate and to deepen the performance. It's a remarkable play and I'm so lucky to be in it.

It's been a while since you originated a role in a new play.
PL: Here's my bitch right now. We're on a five-year loop of revivals. Where are the new playwrights? I mean, God bless Jeffrey Richards for taking on David and this new play. More producers should be taking on new works so we can grow as an audience and they can grow as playwrights. Where are the new fucking playwrights?

LuPone and Debra Winger in The Anarchist.
photo by Joan Marcus

What is your personal relationship with Mamet like?
PL: We have fun. He's smart, but he’s also a regular guy. Whenever there's a break he's at the piano playing or writing a song, or we're reminiscing about the old days. David and I got in trouble when we were kids. I don't think he remembers doing donuts in a golfcart at the Breakers Hotel. We got thrown out!

Is The Anarchist going to be a kind of explosive nail-biter?
PL: These are cerebral arguments and they're legitimate arguments facing people in prison today. I don't think it will ever be incendiary because it might diffuse the argument. The fireworks are in the language, not the volume of the actors, and that's the way it should be. Come in, and sit down, and listen. Let the play do the work, and let the play work on you. It may become incendiary, but we're still rehearsing. It's very tight writing.

I'm going to drag out that old argument in which people criticize Mamet for not writing strong roles for women. I know you have said you don't believe that to be true. Do you think The Anarchist will finally satisfy those critics?
PL: I have no idea! Because I don't buy into that argument at all. I have played several of his female characters and they are deep and emotionally complex women. I don't buy into it — I've played 'em! I don't know if this will deliver what those critics are looking for? Is it a Martha? [from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?] It's a pity that they have an expectation. It would be better if they just came in and sat down and listened.

If you could pick any Mamet role to play, which would it be?
PL: I would love to have done the role in Cryptogram and Oleanna. I would have loved to have played all of David's women!

Any fantasy Mamet male role you dream of playing?
PL: Nah! [Laughs] I mean, well, I'm a woman, I don't necessarily want to play one of those parts. But, I also can't wait to see Bobby Cannavale as Richard Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross. He's so fabulous and that's a showstopper that part.