Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Theater Review: Glengarry Glen Ross and The Anarchist

A Tale of Two Mamets:
Are the Shows Getting Panned Because He's Now a Conservative?
By Lauren Yarger
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. On a little Manhattan street (West 45th, to be exact) playwright David Mamet has two shows running simultaneously on Broadway: Glengarry Glen Ross, which won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1984, and The Anarchist, a brand new work.

It would seem the best of times -- a playwright's dream come true. Glengarry, at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, stars film and stage powerhouse Al Pacino as the desperate real estate agent Shelly "The Machine" Levene and features Bobby Cannavale (The Motherf**ker With the Hat) and Richard Schiff ("The West Wing") among his cut-throat co-workers, all under the direction of the capable Daniel Sullivan. A couple of doors down at the Golden Theatre, Tony winner Patti LuPone (Evita, Gypsy) goes head to head with film legend Debra Winger ("An Officer and a Gentleman," "Terms of Endearment") in a story about a leftist radical who wants to be paroled from prison.

But just days after opening, it was the worst of times. Producers for The Anarchist announced that the play, which pretty much was panned across the board by critics, will close on Dec. 16 after just 17 performances. Glengarry, which opened Sunday after a delay attributed to more rehearsal time needed following interruptions by Hurricane Sandy, isn't racking up many raves either, with most critics recording less-than-enthusiastic to negative reviews yesterday. So what happened? How could the  toast of Broadway, the King of the "F-Bomb," suddenly fall out of favor? Cursing on stage, putting down women and having ping-pong banter was supposed to be so cool....

Before seeing Glengarry and The Anarchist, last week, I wondered how they would fare, because they are the first stagings of Mamet's works on Broadway since he announced his political "conversion" from being a "brain-dead Liberal" (his words, not mine) to a Conservative. Let me tell you -- this is the world in which I work and I know what I am talking about -- it was more than just a change in thought. It probably was professional suicide.

The New York theater community -- like much of the city -- is pretty much politically Liberal in its makeup. Those who aren't keep it to themselves, because most of the people making decisions about which shows get produced, who will direct them, who will act in them and most of the critics writing about them are Liberals and anyone professing opposition to their political agenda probably won't get work -- or a good review.

This is the community which won't eat at Chick Fil-A or support the Salvation Army because somewhere in the hierarchy of those organizations, there is some sort of opposition to same-sex marriage. The theater community in general, also held what I would define as a witch hunt in 2008 when Scott Eckern, artistic director of California Musical Theatre, made a personal financial contribution to support Proposition 8, which for that state, defined marriage as between a man and woman only. Eckern, a Mormon, whose church backed the state constitutional amendment, used his own money and in no way acted on behalf of the theater when making a $1,000 contribution, but the theater community threatened to boycott the place any way and he later resigned. So being a Conservative, a Republican or being religious -- especially Christian -- for the most part, isn't considered an asset on your resume here. (You can get away with being "spiritual," as long as you don't take the bible too seriously or with being a "Christian" as long as your faith doesn't differ from the world's view on things.)

Philosophies can be tolerated (I actually have found my NY theater community friends very accepting of my faith) as long as you don't get too vocal about them, become an activist or try to push them on others. Mamet, however, crossed the line, stirring controversy with his opinions in that other Liberal entertainment capital where he works -- Hollywood -- as well (he wrote the screenplays  for "The Verdict," "The Untouchables" and "Wag the Dog.")

He confessed his switch to Conservative politics and thinking (first in an op-ed piece to the Village Voice and then in a book expanding on his thoughts.) When he took a suicidal leap off a professional cliff and endorsed Republican Mitt Romney in November's presidential race, I could have told you that these two shows opening post election in New York probably wouldn't get good reviews. It seemed a given that many critics for publications that serve as cheerleaders for Liberal politics while trying their best to stir up hatred for Conservatives and their causes, would find some reason to pan Glengarry, despite the fact that the play received the Olivier Award for its premiere in London and garnered four Tony nominations for the Broadway production, including Best Play. The Broadway revival in 2005 won both the Tony and Drama Desk awards.

Now all of a sudden, we're supposed to believe it's no good? That's what a bunch of my colleagues said yesterday. They have a variety of reasons for why this production falls short. Some criticisms are justified, but after so many "journalists" have thrown away any pretense of objectivity by publicly voicing support for Liberals and their agenda while denouncing Conservatives and theirs, we have to wonder whether all of them can review without bias a production written by a guy who has joined political ranks with the much hated Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh (boycotted for comments "war on women" comments, which if they had appeared in a Mamet play a couple of decades ago, probably would have been reported as "sharp dialogue" by the same people outraged here...) It's something to think about.

Meanwhile, in The Anarchist, Lupone's character, Cathy, claims to have found Christ (Mamet really has gone off the deep end, I thought). Before I attended, I was sure this also might have a lot to do with the negative buzz I was hearing about the show. Christian themes don't fare all that well on Broadway: Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semper McPhersonLeap of Faith, Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell all have been handed their walking papers in short order these past two seasons, while religion-bashing shows like Book of Mormon and Grace live on.

Now, despite the truth of what I have just said about the climate in the New York theater community, let me tell you something else that's honest (because politically correct never influences opinion here at Reflections in the Light): While many of the performances in Glengarry and The Anarchist are strong, both of these plays deserve bad reviews, regardless of political influences that might be at play (and so did Scandalous, Leap of Faith and Godspell, though I enjoyed Superstar.)
Al Pacino. Photo: Scott Landis
Glengarry never has been a favorite and awarding it the Pulitzer really mystified me. It's an interesting study of greed, corruption, ethics and what people might be tempted to do when they are desperate, to be sure, but a lot of sentence fragments hurled at lightning speed by "F" word rocket launchers does not a great literary work make, in my opinion. It probably never deserved the accolades it received, truth be told, but the ever-evolving  "politically correct" isn't always concerned with truth as much as what is considered cool by the current culture.

Director Sullivan does slow the pace significantly this time around, so the ricochet beat of the dialogue is lost. It gives us a chance to hear the defeat and lack of hope in much of the dialogue, which unfortunately, reminds us of the current economy, even worst than the recession that plagued the nation's markets when the play first debuted in 1984. Without the edge of that razor-sharp back-and-forth, however, the one-hour-and-45-minute run time feels long, despite some really top-notch performances.

Pacino surprises us with an ability to play less-than-head-of-the-Mafia or some other powerful character for which he is known. He successfuly channels a yellow-bellied salesman who has lost his edge, who is past his prime and who stages a break-in at the office to steal some sales leads in a desperate attempt to rescue his soon-to-be-over career. I couldn't help but think that Mamet had written a role long ago that now must resonate more personally as the future of his own career comes into question.

Cannavale also shines as Ricky Roma (the role Pacino played in the movie version of Glengarry). He is the current golden boy leading the salesmen in competition for commissions and prizes like Cadillacs awarded when they sell property in the Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms developments. (And yes, they're all men. Earlier in his career, Mamet only referred to women negatively, or had a single woman character to serve mostly as a bouncing board for the more developed, more interesting male characters in his plays.) Rounding out the fine cast are David Harbour, John C. McGinley, Jeremy Shamos and Murphy Guyer.

Meanwhile, proving that a leopard can change his spots -- even if it makes him unpopular -- The Anarchist offers two women -- and only women characters -- who never utter the F word.

Lupone plays a convicted member of a radical Left organization like the Weather Underground organization of the late 1960s and early '70s. After 35 years in prison, She seeks her release so she can visit her dying father and ask for his forgiveness. Standing in her way is an official, Ann (Winger), whose last duty before leaving her job at the prison, will be to decide whether Cathy has been rehabilitated. The prisoner has detailed her conversion to Christianity in a book and offers it as proof that she has changed (like Mamet?). She hopes to be cloistered with nuns after her release.

Ann puts Cathy to the test (in too-timid a manner by Winger). If Cathy truly has repented, Ann feels she would give up the location of the one member of the radical group who escaped imprisonment or death: Althea, Cathy's lover who still is in hiding. A game of cat and mouse ensues, during which Ann's sexuality and motives as well as the validity of Cathy's faith come into question.

But the real reason this play hasn't fared well with the critics isn't because of the religious theme. It's because it is not a good play. Critics may not like the Christian theme running through it, but their pans aren't because of it. The play is incredibly boring, even at just over an hour in length. The dialogue sounds like excerpts from legal briefs forced into the women's mouths to try to show two sides of an argument.

Real women don't speak like this (and we aren't all lesbians), but actually putting two women in a play without requiring them to be defined by men is a step in the right direction for Mr. Mamet. Next time, I suggest he takes this even further -- much in the spirit of Ann's requiring proof of change -- and use his skill to create some realistic female characters. We need more of them on stage. Most of us women don't join radical leftist groups -- not even the Liberals in New York who are upset with the playwright right now. Real women juggle work and family, work for equal rights  -- and even sell real estate in developments like Glengarry Highlands.

The real drama here is that even if he writes a terrific play with compelling characters, will David Mamet ever be allowed to succeed on the Great White Liberal Way again? Only time and the current political climate will tell.

Show information:

Glengarry Glen Ross runs through Jan. 20 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th St., NYC. Tickets: 212-239-6200, 800-432-7250; http://www.glengarrybroadway.com/.
Christians might also like to know:
-- Language (lots)
-- God's name taken in vain

The Anarchist runs at the John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th St., NYC through Dec. 16. Tickets: 212-239-6200, 800-432-7250; http://theanarchistbroadway.com/.
Christians might also like to know:
--Homosexuality

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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