Rebecca Pidgeon stars in her husband, David Mamet's, two-character drama The Anarchist at Theatre Asylum in Hollywood.
Rebecca Pidgeon stars in her husband David Mamet's two-character drama The Anarchist at Theatre Asylum in Hollywood.
(© Tristan Fuge)

At the tail end of 2012, David Mamet's new play The Anarchist premiered on Broadway. Directed by Mamet himself, the production starred Patti LuPone as a longtime prison inmate engaged in a battle of philosophy and wits with a prison official, played by Debra Winger, who could provide her with parole. The 70-minute drama played only a 17-performance run at the John Golden Theatre before inauspiciously closing.

Three years later, The Anarchist is undergoing a small resurgence, in the hands of director Marja-Lewis Ryan at Theatre Asylum in Hollywood. Playing the two characters are actors of just as much note as the Broadway stars, longtime Mamet collaborators Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives) as Cathy, the prisoner, and Rebecca Pidgeon (Mamet's wife) as Ann, the warden.

In anticipation of the new production, TheaterMania chatted with Pidgeon about what it's like to restage The Anarchist, where the original production went wrong, and how helpful (or unhelpful) her husband can be when it comes to rehearsing.

How did this production come to be?
We saw Marja-Lewis Ryan's play One in the Chamber, which she had written and directed, and we were thrilled by it. She's a superb young talent. Dave was very excited by her. I think he just thought of [a new production] one morning, because it really didn't have a run in New York. We were all free at the same time and we were all suddenly rehearsing the play the next day, without any preparation. It was a complete surprise. We blundered into it going, "What is this play about?"

Felicity Huffman and Rebecca Pidgeon in David Mamet's Boston Marriage at American Repertory Theatre in 1999.
Felicity Huffman and Rebecca Pidgeon in David Mamet's Boston Marriage at American Repertory Theatre in 1999.
(© A.R.T.)

How privy to the rehearsal process of the Broadway production were you?
I saw it in rehearsals in Santa Monica, and that's the performance that really sticks in my mind. I was watching these two actresses [LuPone and Winger] working very closely together and working their way through the meaning of it, and it was really magical.

What went wrong when the show made it to Broadway?
That's a puzzler. I really don't know. When I saw it on Broadway, it certainly wasn't as magical as it was in the rehearsal room. It had lost something and I don't know why or what. It's a very, very difficult play. The play has different sections that become clear as you go over it. It has movements, as it were, like a piece of music. It's [only] seventy minutes long, but it's a harrowing ride.

Is Mr. Mamet involved with this production?
Not at all. If I ask him a question about the meaning of the line, he says to me, "Rebecca, did you read the play when you agreed to do it?" [laughs] He's not being at all helpful.

What have you learned about the play during this rehearsal process?
Because it's a two-hander, it's such a marathon. It reminds me a bit of when I was doing Oleanna with Bill Macy, Felicity's husband. Both of the characters have such good points. I'm fighting one side of the coin and Felicity is fighting the other side, and we find ourselves absolutely intrigued by the other's arguments. When I'm listening to Felicity talking, personally, I'm thinking, What the character is saying makes complete sense to me. And I think she finds herself feeling the same thing. It's not a black-and-white play. It wouldn't be a good play, or a play of worth [if it was].

You and Felicity have worked together several times, in addition to being friends. Does that make doing a two-character play like this easier?
We've known each other for many years and it's super fun to be working with her. Walking into a working process and trusting the people you're working with, especially when it's just me and Felicity onstage together…It's nice knowing that we're rock solid for each other.

Patti LuPone and Debra Winger in the Broadway production of The Anarchist at the John Golden Theatre in 2012.
Patti LuPone and Debra Winger in the Broadway production of The Anarchist at the John Golden Theatre in 2012.
(© Joan Marcus)