At one point late in the heady game of The Anarchist, which opened Dec. 2 at the Golden, Patti LuPone plugs up the torrent of words that is pouring forth about her release from prison and says to parole officer Debra Winger, "Gimme a cigarette."
This may not have the trashy snap, crackle and pop of Two-Gun Gertie's "Got a butt, buddy?" in "Roxie Hart," but it's a rueful reminder of how the incarcerated used to chat around the old cellblock. That was 1942, and this is 2012.
Cathy, the prisoner LuPone plays, has college-educated herself into 35 years of prison because of a politically motivated bank robbery that resulted in the murder of three people. Now, she has now come to Ann, her resistant and departing caseworker, for one last plea. Having found God (and the thesaurus) in the interim, it is a windy and eloquent argument, replete with brainy sociopolitical references. For 70 minutes, cat and mouse fling some pretty high-toned verbiage back and forth.
David Mamet is the author and director of this enterprise, so the talk rises and falls and cascades in a very thoughtful and thought-filled fashion. And it's deadly serious.
Mamet's motive in writing the play can be found in a flyer tucked into the Playbill — a reprint of the piece he did a few weeks ago in The New York Times in which he recalled rubbing shoulders with the radical Weather Underground during his college days in the 1960s. The Anarchist has, it seems, a real-life reference point — Judith Clark, a Weatherman still jailed for a 1981 crime, eligible for parole when she's 107 — and it asks the question: Is her continued incarceration a political act?
Ordinarily at his openings, Mamet keeps a low (if not invisible) profile. For this he showed up, did the red carpet and posed for pictures, looking his usual idiosyncratic self in a French beret and black-tinted specs. Speaking to the press would, of course, be pressing it — he believes his plays speak for themselves, and flyers are helpful.
Sure enough, when the after-party convened at The Red Eye Grill, he made a beeline for a second-floor inner-sanctum and stayed, surrounded by friends and family.
Half the cast — the Broadway-debuting Winger — followed suit after posing fleetingly for photographs. Jaws dropped like dominos among the assembled TV reporters and print scribes. Winger had previously done a press meet 'n' greet with LuPone for the same people and proved not only to be accessible but charming and often hilarious.
But on opening night, she blithely decided she had had her fill of public relations.
Which left LuPone holding the bag all by herself with the press. Trouper that she is, she picked it right up and ran with it, singing the praises of the MIA loud and clear.
She fervently hoped that The Anarchist, a two-character sister-act, lays to rest the lingering criticism that Mamet doesn't write good roles for women (never mind that both these characters are lesbians and are played in pantsuits). It was a theory that she never subscribed to, "having done a pretty good share of David's plays myself."
Before and after Evita defined her as a musical force-of-nature, she was toiling in Mamets like The Woods, All Men Are Whores, The Blue Hour, The Water Engine, Edmond, The Old Neighborhood and his movies like "Heist" and "State and Main."
Rumor has it that The Anarchist was written with her in mind. "So he says," LuPone confirmed. And how does that make her feel? "Are you kidding, Harry? I'm the luckiest person alive. I've never had anything written for me. If this is true, it will be the first role that was written for me in my career, which is — what, 40-plus years!
"There's nothing I don't like about Cathy. She's intelligent, she's sympathetic, she's vulnerable, she's strong, she's passionate. She's passionate because she believes in her country. She's a philosopher. She has a desire to help other people. . . ."
Mamet is one of two great influences in LuPone's career; the other, she said, is Stephen Sondheim. And a musical background has helped her in delivering Mamet's dialogue. "He's very musical, and you have to give yourself over to the music of his rhythm — the rhythm of the dialogue. You have to give yourself over to it."
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