Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Penitent


I wish I could say that David Mamet’s new play at the Atlantic Theater Company marks his return to greatness. While it’s by no means his worst, it falls far short of his best work. It is about a psychiatrist Charles (Chris Bauer) who suddenly gets religion when a young patient commits a terrible crime. Although he has frequently testified as a mitigating witness for the defense, he refuses to do so in this instance. The boy accuses him of antipathy toward gay people, a charge supported by a newspaper piece misquoting the title of an article he wrote as “Homosexuality as an Aberration” instead of “Homosexuality as an Adaptation.” The bad press leads to worse for Charles. Meanwhile, his wife Kath (Rebecca Pidgeon, Mamet’s wife) does not understand his position. The stilted opening scene between them really gets things off to a bad start. We next see Charles with his friend/lawyer Richard (Jordan Lage), who urges him to relent and testify. The second act begins energetically with a scene between Charles and an attorney (the fine Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) deposing him who knows his way around the Old Testament. In the final scene, we learn the cost of Charles’s allegedly principled stand and, to my great annoyance, find out information that casts everything that preceded it in a new light.Tim Mackabee designed the minimalist set — a table and two chairs and two angled walls. Laura Bauer designed the costumes. Perhaps there was some deep significance I missed in the fact that Kath alternated between jeans with holes in the knees and jeans without holes. Atlantic’s artistic director Neil Pepe (Marie & Rosetta, Hold on to Me Darling) directed. The press, the legal system, psychiatry, religion, marriage and friendship all take a beating. There are no winners here, including the audience. Running time: 85 minutes including intermission.

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