By Nathaniel Cayanan
Three years after its critically divisive run on Broadway, David Mamet’s The Anarchist opened again, this time in the smaller, more intimate Theatre Asylum in Los Angeles. The Pulitzer Prize winner’s play follows a conversation between Cathy, a former member of an infamous group of anarchists who, decades ago, murdered two police officers, and Ann, a prison administrator who has the power to grant Cathy her freedom or condemn her to a life of imprisonment. As Cathy, played by Felicity Huffman, attempts to convince Ann, played by Rebecca Pidgeon, of her reformation, a game of wits and wills unfolds that exposes dueling philosophies and questionable motives.
Criticized mostly for its dense, verbose material, and use of “Mamet speak,” this production directed by Marja-Lewis Ryan maintains many of these characteristics, but exemplifies what makes Mamet such a monumental presence in the writing world. True, on paper, Mamet’s dialogue can feel frustratingly muddled, what with its non-sequiturs, overlapping dialogue, and advanced vocabulary, but when analyzed closely, the writing clearly exhibits a level of mastery that intends to misdirect, amplifying the tension in this 70 minute chess game on the stage.
Still, audiences justifiably may feel that breaking down such text as daunting as breaking down Shakespeare, but, with skilled actors and direction to translate each line in a thoughtful and sensitive manner, the play becomes entrancing from beginning to end. Felicity Huffman, most famous for her award winning performances on film and television, exhibits why she’s had such a well-received career, as she waxes philosophical and plays on our sympathies. And when clashing with Rebecca Pidgeon’s calculated and powerful performance in which she balances power and humanity, Huffman exposes Mamet’s incredibly complex creation and keeps us wondering whether we can believe everything she says.
Most impressive is that this show is just one scene that lasts all 70 minutes in a small office elaborately designed by Michael Fitzgerald. Their performances are quite mesmerizing as for the entire time they never miss a beat, muddy up a line, or flag in their energy. These performers are so natural and meld so well with their surrounding that we forget that somewhere 10-minutes that we’re watching a play and are instead dissecting authentic human beings.
In short, while still dense and verbose, with a collaboration of masterful artists, The Anarchist is another incredible achievement for an already accomplished creative team.
The Anarchist will play through May 23rd at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90038. Show days are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8pm. Running time: 70 minutes. No Late Seating. Street parking available as well as valet at cost. Reservations can be made by calling (323) 960-7784 or by going to https://www.plays411.net. Tickets are $34.