Saturday, March 18, 2017

Off-Broadway Theater Review: The Penitent

The Penitent 
By David Mamet
Directed by Neil Pepe
The Atlantic Theater Company
Through March 26

By Lauren Yarger
What Is It All About?
The world premiere of a new play from David Mamet with hardly an F bomb to be found. It's an interesting study on just how far a person is (and should be) willing to go to stand up for what is right -- or to defame someone else just to get what you want. The themes seem particularly vital in the midst of current culture where false news can drive an agenda and where not being on the perceived "right side of an issue' can result in a person's being targeted with hatred and loss of livelihood.

Charles (Chris Bauer of "True Blood"" fame) is a renowned psychiatrist who refuses to testify on behalf of a client. The client claims homophobia is the reason and goes public with his allegation citing a paper Charles once wrote calling homosexuality an aberration. Charles claims his decision not to support the youth with his testimony is instead because of the heinous crime committed by the boy -- the shooting of 10 people. The "aberration" remarks are an incorrect reporting of what Charles actually wrote in the paper, but that doesn't seem to matter.

The press focuses on Charles' character, rather than on the crime and soon his marriage and career are threatened. He seeks advice from his colleague, Richard (Jordan Lage, who appeared in Mamet's Pulizer Prize-winning play Glengary Glen Ross on Broadway). He understands Charles' ethical objections to releasing any records of his sessions with the boy -- even if they will help exonerate him.

His wife, Kath (a miscast Rebecca Pidgeon), doesn't appreciate having her life turned upside down. The stress becomes too much with more devastating effects on her than even her husband who is the target of public hatred experiences. Joining in the pressure to just give in and testify is Charles' attorney (Lawrence Gillard, Jr. from "The Walking Dead"). He remains opposed, especially in light of the his recent religious awakening. He isn't quite sure exactly what he believes about God or his Word in the bible, but he feels that testifying on behalf of the boy would be wrong morally.

What Are the Highlights?
The themes are contemporary and thought-provoking. What is the price of being forced to commit an act one feels is immoral? The interaction between Charles and his attorney in the second act is the most engaging.

What Are the Lowlights?

The play can be unclear at times about who some of these folks are. I took me a while to verify in my mind that Kath was Charles' wife and for a while, I thought Richard was his attorney and a prosecutor before realizing he was a colleague.  It is two acts and does not need to be -- an 80-minute, no-intermission format would better serve it. So would some edits. We wonder where Charles' attorney is through most of the first act. Pigeon ("The Unit") seems to have trouble looking or sounding natural in the role. Pepe has her taking walks away from Charles and talking into space rather than directly to him which points out the distance between them, but unfortunately also contributes to her not fitting. The sharp, quick banter that is Mamet's trademark doesn't fall naturally off her tongue.

More Information:
The Penitent plays through March 26 at the Atlantic Theater Company's Linda Gross Theatre, 338 West 20th St., NYC. 

Additional credits:
Scenic Design by Tim Mackabee, Costume Design by Laura Bauer, Lighting Design by Don Holder.

-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

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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 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. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other 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 wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly 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.


All material is copyright 2008- 2024 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


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 or people of a certain race 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. 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 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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