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Atlantic Theater Company Presents "The Penitent", by David Mamet, at the Linda Gross Theater
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Atlantic Theater Company Presents "The Penitent", by David Mamet, at the Linda Gross Theater

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Atlantic Theater Company
Neil Pepe, Artistic Director
Jeffory Lawson, Managing Director

The Penitent
(The Penitent Web Page)

By David Mamet
Directed by Neil Pepe

Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011

With: Chris Bauer, Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.,
Jordan Lage, Rebecca Pidgeon

Sets by Tim Mackabee
Costumes by Laura Bauer
Lights by Donald Holder
Casting: Telsey & Company,
William Cantler, CSA
Production Stage Manager: Mary Kathryn Flynt
Production Manager: Bethany Weinstein
General Manager: Pamela Adams
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 7, 2017

It’s always a satisfying experience to attend a David Mamet play, especially a new work, when you feel transported by the rhythm and momentum of the dialogue. Mr. Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow, November, and Race have been favorably reviewed on these pages, with mixed reviews for his Oleanna, The Anarchist, A Life in the Theatre, and China Doll. In the first four productions, listed above, you could remain for another immediate showing, and, in fact, I did return for repeat viewings of Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed-the-Plow. Yet, the 80 or so minute (with one intermission) The Penitent, produced at Atlantic Theater Company and directed by Atlantic’s Artistic Director, Neil Pepe, may be the most tedious of all. The extra-dry, one-on-one dialogues have little rhythm and less momentum. The characters, all secretive and self-serving, in iconic Mamet design, neither captivate the imagination nor draw the viewer into their dreary dilemmas. Tim Mackabee’s rapidly shifting sets and Donald Holder’s dramatically lit scenes are far more thought-provoking than the droning conversations.

Charles (Chris Bauer), a psychiatrist, has been caught up in a pressing legal matter with a former patient accused of murder. The patient is called “The Boy”, and the media has stretched the title of a former paper written by Charles, “Homosexuality as an Adaptation”, into “Homosexuality as an Aberration”, to expand on the patient’s plea for Charles to support him in court. The media and “The Boy” have made a case against Charles for being “homophobic”. Charles is pushed into a legal deposition with the patient’s attorney (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) by his own attorney, Richard (Jordan Lage), who also finds time to “consult” with Charles’ wife, Kath (Rebecca Pidgeon). Kath maintains emotional and stage distance from Charles, emblematic of mysterious intent (although the audience has already been told she met with Richard, for no remarkable purpose). Richard, as well, seems to exist in his own bubble while meeting with his paying client, Charles. The deposition attorney seems the most energized character here, stalking his prey as he paces about the stage.

Mr. Bauer enacts Charles with brooding internalization and depressing presence. One can only assume he has followed directorial instructions, as this is a tight-knit production. Ms. Pidgeon, even more, speaks like she’s reading a recipe or obituary, stilted and static. Mr. Lage, like Mr. Gilliard, breathes repressed fire, for reasons that become expected revelations at the play’s finale. There’s nothing less welcome in a Mamet play than final, suspected surprises. Sarcastic comments about lawyers, therapists, and sex all landed with understated laughter in the house. Perhaps a comedy writer could have helped spruce up bits of dialogue to land more Mametian punch. In fact, Woody Allen was in tonight’s audience, the best comedy writer on matters of relationships, therapists, lawyers, and dilemmas. I’d love to see a collaborative play by these two maestros.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at