David Mamet’s new play The Penitent being at the Atlantic Theater, is a cheep sell out. Mamet co-founded The Atlantic with William H. Macy in 1985. Gone is the playwright with sarcastic, bitting humor, that wrote Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow and my one of my favorite movies Wag the Dog. The Penitent, takes on morality, the legal system, journalism, homosexuality, psychiatry, religion and unconditional love, while playing a mind game of lying, for 90 minutes, including a pointless intermission.
The whole play takes place because Charles (Chris Bauer) a psychiatrist, whose homosexual teen patient has brutally murdered 10 people with a gun. According to the newspaper, Charles has called homosexuality an “aberration,” and he is now on trail in the press. Charles has been misquoted in called homosexuality an “adaptation.” His wife Kath (a horrible, Rebecca Pidgeon, Mamet’s wife), does not understand, how this has happened and she goes on and on and on playing stupid to how her husband can not testify or turn over his papers. From the moment she says his lawyer Richard (Jordan Lage), has told her about the case, you know things are not as they seem.
The more Charles refuses to give up his patient’s files, due to his new found spirituality, nothing seems quite real. For a man so moral and so full of faith Charles seems not quite what he says. The scenes are brief fragments, where characters speak over each other and nobody seems to hear or care. The most interesting scene is between Charles and black defense lawyer (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), who knows the Old Testament better than Charles. Because of the lawyers knowledge, this scene points out the manipulation of Mamet.
The cast of men do exceptionally well, but Ms. Pidgeon is just down right annoying. It’s good to be married to the playwright.
Directed by Neil Pepe, artistic director of The Atlantic and Mamet aficionado, the show moves at a clip, though why they put in the intermission is beyond me, as the blah set by Tim Mackabee, does nothing and the actors don’t change.
Nothing about this play feels real, un-manipulated or worth your time sitting in a theatre. Mr Mamet please write an updated Wag the Dog about today’s political climate, because you changed my thinking from seeing that film and I will never be able to look at the world the same way because of it. Isn’t that what art should be about?
The Penitent: Atlantic Theater, 330 West 16th St. Until March 26th.