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 McPherson, Leap 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|
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.
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: