Ac­tors hope to set words free

Felic­ity Huff­man and Re­becca Pid­geon sit down with David Mamet’s ‘An­ar­chist.’

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By David Ng

In “The An­ar­chist,” by David Mamet, a for­mer po­lit­i­cal rad­i­cal who has served 35 years in jail ar­gues for cle­mency from a pri­son of­fi­cial who holds the power to set her free.

Is a sec­ond chance in the cards? Per­haps the more rel­e­vant ques­tion for au­di­ences is whether “The An­ar­chist” — which flopped on Broad­way — de­serves one.

For its Los An­ge­les pre­miere, two ac­tresses who are no strangers to the play­wright’s par­tic­u­lar uni­verse have signed on to make the case. Felic­ity Huff­man plays Cathy, the in­car­cer­ated left­ist who claims to have found Christ, and Re­becca Pid­geon is Ann, her stoic in­ter­roga­tor.

Over the years, they have nav­i­gated Mamet’s dia­logue nu­mer­ous times on stage and screen. But in a re­cent in­ter­view, even they con­ceded that “The An­ar­chist” has been far from easy.

“I would say this is the most dif­fi­cult play I’ve ever done,” said Pid­geon. “This wins the gold medal.”

Huff­man used a more Mamet-es­que de­scrip­tion:

“‘Oh ...!’ That was go­ing through my head,” she re­called think­ing at the first read-through.

She said the play con­tains such in­tri­cate speech that “it takes me al­most two hours to learn a page.”

Both ac­tresses were seated in Hol­ly­wood’s Theatre Asy­lum — a small stage with fewer than 99 seats — where “The An­ar­chist” is run­ning through late May.

It’s a world away from the 800-seat John Golden Theatre in New York, where the play opened with Patti LuPone and De­bra Winger in 2012.

“The An­ar­chist” was an un­con­ven­tional choice for Broad­way, given its dense, philo­soph­i­cal power plays and min­i­mal­ist setup — two women in a room, talk­ing.

The play, which runs just 70 min­utes, met a quick demise fol­low­ing mostly neg­a­tive re­views and poor box of­fice.

It was a sig­nif­i­cant set­back for Mamet, the Pulitzer Prize-win­ning drama­tist fa­mous for “Glen­garry Glen Ross,” “Oleanna” and “Speed-the-Plow.”

Both Huff­man and Pid­geon said they be­lieve “The An­ar­chist” is bet­ter suited for a small stage.

“I’m so glad we’re here and not at a big­ger theater. This tiny, in­ti­mate space is claus­tro­pho­bic, and it feels like the au­di­ence is in the room with us,” said Pid­geon. “There’s nowhere to hide here. You’re al­most part of the play.”

Huff­man said “The An­ar­chist” re­quires that au­di­ences be alert and at­ten­tive. You “can’t space out be­cause you’re 200 seats back,” she said.

The L.A. pro­duc­tion, di­rected by Marja-Lewis Ryan, came to­gether quickly. Mamet was im­pressed with Ryan’s play “One in the Cham­ber” and sug­gested that she di­rect “The An­ar­chist.”

“The next day we were in my living room read­ing through the play,” re­called Huff­man. Ini­tially, they planned to mount a pro­duc­tion in a com­pressed twoweek sched­ule, but the com­plex­ity of the lan­guage com­pelled them to scrap that idea.

“In a way, it’s al­most a for­eign lan­guage. But it’s re­ally our lan­guage brought to its apex,” she said.

Pid­geon said that Mamet left them to their own de­vices at first. “It was very ir­ri­tat­ing that he didn’t help us at all!” said the actress, who is mar­ried to Mamet.

But the play­wright, who de­clined to be in­ter­viewed, even­tu­ally pro­vided some guid­ance, in­clud­ing a change in block­ing for a cru­cial pas­sage near the end.

Huff­man said that she felt dis­sat­is­fied af­ter a re­cent pre­view per­for­mance and that Mamet of­fered some ad­vice.

“He said ev­ery night it’s go­ing to be dif­fer­ent,” she re­called. “He said that you’re not go­ing to be­come com­fort­able in the play — what you are go­ing to be com­fort­able in is the un­know­ing.”

“The An­ar­chist” ex­plores Cathy’s vi­o­lent past with a rad­i­cal po­lit­i­cal group as well as her sub­se­quent decades spent in lockup, dur­ing which she has pur­sued a life of the mind and adopted the teach­ings of Je­sus.

LuPone, who orig­i­nated the role on Broad­way, spoke about the play’s abrupt clo­sure in a re­cent, sep­a­rate in­ter­view.

“I’m still blown away by it,” she said. “It was hor­rific. We were dev­as­tated.”

The actress said that money that could have been used to see the play through its early weeks was given back to in­vestors.

“I screamed at the com­pany manager,” LuPone said. “It’s not about putting a show up; it’s how to keep the show run­ning. I told him that he just didn’t give it a chance.”

A spokes­woman for lead pro­ducer Jef­frey Richards said he was en route to Eng­land and was un­able to com­ment.

How­ever, she said that Richards will be ne­go­ti­at­ing a new pro­duc­tion of “The An­ar­chist” in Lon­don.

Both Pid­geon and Huff­man said the play leaves lit­tle room for er­ror for its ac­tors. “It’s like rock climb­ing to­gether and we’re tied to­gether by a rope,” said Pid­geon. “Ev­ery lit­tle thing throws you off. Ev­ery stray thought shows up in the play.”

The ac­tresses ap­peared to­gether in Mamet’s “Bos­ton Mar­riage” at the Amer­i­can Reper­tory Theatre in Mas­sachusetts in 1999. Both plays are fe­male-cen­tric and fea­ture les­bian un­der­cur­rents.

Hav­ing worked fre­quently with Mamet, “I feel like I sort of know what Dave wants,” said Huff­man. “It helps living with Bill Macy [her hus­band], who has done a lot of his work. He has an idea of how the mu­sic should be played.”

Huff­man, an Emmy win­ner, can be seen in ABC’s drama se­ries “Amer­i­can Crime,” which kicked off its first sea­son ear­lier this year.

“Dave never talks down to the au­di­ence,” she con­tin­ued.

“In TV, you hear, oh, they’re not go­ing to get it. But with [Mamet], ab­so­lutely — they will get it.”

Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times

IN L.A., David Mamet’s “The An­ar­chist” is be­ing per­formed by Re­becca Pid­geon, left, and Felic­ity Huff­man. The play was briefly on Broad­way in 2012.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.