Already closed

The Penitent

Members say: Disappointing, Thought-provoking, Slow, Intelligent, Great acting
34 reviews
111 reviews

Atlantic Theater Company presents a world premiere drama by Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist and Atlantic co-founder David Mamet ('Glengarry Glen Ross,' 'China Doll.')

... Read more

In 'The Penitent' a renowned psychiatrist is asked to testify on behalf of a young patient. When he refuses, his career, ethics, and faith are thrown into question. Helmed by Atlantic's artistic director Neil Pepe.


Reviews (145)

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score


"A blog post masquerading as a drama...Every line feels hammered into the script in order to force the story toward its predetermined outcome...The actors deliver uniformly stiff performances as a result of this wooden dialogue...The story is presented in a series of seven scenes separated by unnecessarily lengthy blackouts, which sap what little energy and tension the show has built." Full Review


"Doctor-patient privilege, religion and infidelity are all worked into the mix, so much so that the story seems unbelievably loaded with twists, but that's part of the entertaining quality of it all, as are the elevated verbal rhythms that Mamet orchestrates so well into his dialogue. But even with the unnecessary intermission, Pepe's production takes up only eighty minutes, and 'The Penitent' might be more satisfying if paired with another short piece." Full Review


"To a wordsmith like Mamet, a slip of the tongue can be fatal for a character – although it’s difficult to care too much either way in this limp drama...Director Neil Pepe’s affinity for Mamet-speak can’t fill in the plot holes...Bauer makes a hearty meal of Mamet’s juicy dialogue...But it’s hard to grasp why the psychiatrist feels complicit in his patient’s crime — and harder still to understand his conflict of faith and ethics when the reason for it is withheld until it’s too late to care." Full Review

The New York Times

"The relationship that fails to excite Mr. Mamet and his longtime collaborator, the director Neil Pepe, is the one between audience and play...And yet, if you prick up your ears, you can still hear a little of that old Mametian magic...He makes the plot take a couple of pretty unlikely turns...This blurs the play’s focus and weakens the surprise of its finish. The ending of 'The Penitent' pulls the rug out from under us, but that rug has already been worn pretty thin." Full Review

Time Out New York

“Under-conceived and underwritten…It feels wrong to describe Mamet's interchanges as conversations. All of them are arguments had in bad faith; certainly, little effort has been made to make them sound like human speech…The marks of something hastily written are all over the text, and its world is badly imagined and unbelievable. An accidentally hilarious denouement tries to power-pack action into the dull tale.” Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"Yet another clunker...Whereas Mamet’s stylized dialogue once crackled with electricity and tension, it now plays as hopelessly stilted. The mannerisms have become irritating, and the characters come across less as real people than mouthpieces for the ideas the playwright wants to express...The evening runs a scant 90 minutes, including an unnecessary intermission (perhaps a considerate gesture to playgoers wishing to flee), but it feels interminable." Full Review

DC Theatre Scene

"Mamet has structured 'The Penitent' so that information is parceled out in stingy pieces. Some of this is surely for dramatic effect, particularly a revelation at the end that is undoubtedly meant to knock us out. But this approach winds up undercutting his thematic explorations...And that ending (which I won’t reveal) is not only implausible to the point of self-parody; it negates or at least clouds all the intellectual debate that’s gone before it." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

“Mamet finds his firmest footing in Act II…The scenes are few but crisp and to the point…Sadly, getting there is far less than half the fun. The first act is a convoluted slog...dragged down by Mamet's prosaic, uninspiring dialogue…Lage, however, is outstanding as Richard…Pidgeon is stilted and starchy throughout...But I doubt that this evening would work much better if Kath's evolution were clearer; even the best acting can mitigate a lack of energizing content only so much." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"The worse tragedy of Mamet, more than his political conversion, is that his later works mostly bore and repel as plays. In 'The Penitent,' the dialogue maintains the artillery rhythms of his early work but there is no sensible character motive behind it; it chases itself in circles and often sounds as if it were erratically transcribed from hackneyed genre movies. The cast, under Neil Pepe’s clumsy direction, doesn’t help much." Full Review

New York Daily News

"The press, the law, psychiatry, religion, marriage and friendship all get bashed in this intriguing but flawed drama...A late surprise changes everything that's come before—and is meant to surprise. It annoys instead, since the supposed big reveal would’ve come out by the defendant. Directed by Atlantic Theatre head Neil Pepe, the acting is 75% capable. The less said about the mannered performance by Pidgeon, Mamet’s wife, the better." Full Review


“It’s intermittently sparky writing but ultimately lazy drama, with an ending that’s less a surprise twist than a playwright’s admission that even he’s too bored to go on." Full Review


"What once had snap, crackle and pop now feels unnatural, forced and, yes, boring. Despite his affinity for Mamet, director Pepe's staging doesn't help. Bauer, as the main character who's always on stage, fares best...however, not enough so to rescue this from not just minor but painfully disappointing Mamet territory...Frankly, 'The Penitent' is less a play than a series of arguments designed to stick it to the unethical behavior in the legal, psychiatric, media and religious communities." Full Review


"Mamet's new straw-man polemic takes less than 90 minutes to pile simplistic criticism onto the legal system, journalism, psychiatry, love, religion and the ethical culpability of those involved with any of the above...Conversations come in short scenes and dialogue interruptions—familiar Mamet techniques used for far better effect in so many earlier works. The generalizations are banal and, even when Mamet intentionally infuriates, these are not interesting minds with which to argue." Full Review


"In Mamet’s best plays, offbeat speech patterns often give a charge to what’s being said; here, even under the direction of long-time Mamet collaborator Neil Pepe, the exchanges are dry, dramatically parched...'The Penitent' is better than Mamet’s last Broadway play, the unfortunate 'China Doll.' But it’s a long distance from the work that made him one of America’s most significant playwrights." Full Review

The Wrap

"'The Penitent' isn’t so much a play as an argument. Mamet watchers are used to that. What makes 'The Penitent' not only thinner but also phony is the final scene where a character lets go with two bomblets that pretty much negate the previous 70 minutes...Not that 'The Penitent' is ever riveting...Under Neil Pepe’s direction, the actors move the chairs and table every which way in the relative darkness...It is amazing how many ways there are to arrange two chairs and one table." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

“While it’s by no means Mamet’s worst, it falls far short of his best work...The stilted opening scene really gets things off to a bad start…The second act begins energetically with a scene between Charles and an attorney (the fine Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) deposing him…The press, the legal system, psychiatry, religion, marriage and friendship all take a beating. There are no winners here, including the audience.” Full Review


"Mamet’s play is often a jumble of non-cohesive ideas, but it still holds together better than recent pieces such as 'The Anarchist' and 'China Doll.' Viewed as an indictment of journalism or the law—take your pick—'The Penitent' is timely and exciting and, in the best of ways, awfully depressing...Overall, my response here was warm-ish. Some themes pop up like a muddled game of socioreligious whack-a-mole, but the play itself entertains and boasts a variety of interesting performances." Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

“It seems to go round and round at times in repeating the issues laid out for us. Although one can be absorbed, there is thinness in this Mamet play, which lacks the bite of his better works. My main enjoyment came from watching Pidgeon…Her performance gives the play a consistent edge. Neil Pepe’s direction unfolds the succession of intimate scenes effectively, but there is nothing that he can do to whitewash the fact that the play itself, although always interesting, is Mamet light.” Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

“Mamet and director Neil Pepe do succeed in conjuring a bleak atmosphere where principle, however misplaced, falls prey to the jaws of bureaucracy. There are also flashes of the playwright’s old talent for brutal verbal jousting...But, for the most part, the actors fail to breathe any real life into their staccato exchanges while the exposition is at once clunky and confusing. The underlying theme of reactionary victimhood also sits uneasily with recent political developments.” Full Review


"'The Penitent' reminds us of Mamet's tremendous gifts for rapid-fire dialogue and political provocation. Yet despite an intriguing first act, which finds Mamet in furious attack mode, railing against the media and liberal political correctness, 'The Penitent' ultimately feels like a rough draft rushed into production...There are interesting ideas and maybe even a coherent play buried here, and the cast is solid, but Mamet should probably take 'The Penitent' back to the drawing board." Full Review

Front Row Center

“If you’re a theater lover you’ll certainly want to see ‘The Penitent'...Is it a great play? Yes. Great production? Not so fast...Mamet’s wife Rebecca Pidgeon is his favorite leading lady. But is she right for this role?…Bauer gets caught in Pidgeon’s odd rhythms. Luckily, in his scenes with the other two actors...Bauer shakes off her influence and turns in a fine performance. A stronger hand is needed at the helm here, but the material is worth the trip." Full Review

Act Three - The Reviews

"Mamet has penned a moral and ethical dilemma that really has no answer but leaves lots of questions. It's done in an ingenious style of giving you only some of the facts, making you guess at others and revealing a key element right at the end, which only serves to make you reflect back upon the entire play...Bauer held court in most every scene...Pidgeon was a bit stilted and awkward...A gripping and thought-provoking drama." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

“Director Neil Pepe never lets the intensity lag. He keeps his actors on their toes, resulting in a satisfyingly taut production...'The Penitent' doesn’t quite make it to the finish line. Mamet plays his cards too close to the vest, with too many major revelations coming in the last five minutes of the piece. Still it’s an engrossing drama. Brilliantly on track for most of its length, its derailments don’t neutralize the vigor of its verbal choreography." Full Review


“Mamet’s misanthropic leanings can make crackling good drama…Here, however, the effect is blunted, as the characters seem to be inhabiting a vacuum…As the arguments get chewed over and over, things begin to seem pretty repetitious...On the plus side, Mamet’s dialogue impresses with command of language and the ability to make clear his character’s points of view...And the actors, for the most part, deliver the dialogue with the kind of conviction that makes you keep listening. " Full Review


"But to me, at least, [the play] also feels like the whining of a put-upon old man; it is unfortunate that Charles' complaints about newspapers match up so neatly with Trumpist anti-intellectualism, but I don't think it is entirely accidental, either." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

Boring, Thought-provoking, Disappointing, Slow

See it if arguments involving ethics or morality

Don't see it if light or fun plays

Thought-provoking, Indulgent, Confusing

See it if you're a fan of David Mamet.

Don't see it if you're looking for something light and fun.

Thought-provoking, Quirky, Disappointing

See it if You are a fan of David Mamet. It's not his best, but the twist at the end makes you think.

Don't see it if You are bothered by some weak acting (the wife).

Relevant, Indulgent, Disappointing

See it if You like plays about ethics, morals, religion, understanding, & the power of the press. You want to see good performances by the male actors

Don't see it if you don't want to see a robotic performance by Mamet's wife, repetitive dialogue of "I understand" and "I don't understand" is overkill.

Clever, Intense, Relevant

See it if my 80 and partner's 50.. It attacks the press (who attack Mamet) Doctors, Lawyers, Religion and even women Jordan Lage is great

Don't see it if The acting by Rebecca P. is a puzzlement. The set is minimal if anything. It ran 80 minutes and there was no need for the intermission

Great acting, Intense, Thought-provoking, Great writing, Very-"law-&-order"-like

See it if If you're a fan David Mamet plays. If you like a wordy drama with a preachy vibe. If you'd like a "Johnny-Cochran-like-character" in a play.

Don't see it if If you're not a fan of Law & Order procedurals; you're uncomfortable hearing about mass-shootings; you're not a fan of a nuts carrying guns.

Relevant, Confusing, Slow

See it if You particularly like Mamet's work

Don't see it if You want a show with a clear storyline or elaborate sets and staging

Also Some of the acting was very good, with the best part after intermissio... Read more Read less

Indulgent, Excruciating, Pretentious, Slow, Pompous

See it if you enjoy giving up 90 minutes of your life to boredom, excepting the 15 minutes Gilliard Jr. was onstage to remind us what great acting is.

Don't see it if a different "actor" (I use the term loosely here) overly annunciating every. Single. Word. Of dialogue will drive you mad. Save yourselves!

Intelligent, Intense, Indulgent, Disappointing, Slow

See it if Has glimpses of Mamet's former thunder & intellegence but feels more like a Mamet parody Bauer (looking like the author) & Lage do fine work

Don't see it if Too many cheap shots taken at powerful institutions doesn't constitute drama. Pepe's direction feels stilted & ending is totally contrived

Boring, Indulgent, Excruciating, Pompous, Zzzzzzzz

See it if you're having trouble sleeping at night. This play is the remedy.

Don't see it if (See my response below. I can't fit it all in 140 characters.)

Also I'm not well versed in Mamet, so I don't know if this is just his styl... Read more Read less

Indulgent, Banal, Excruciating, Bad acting, Terrible staging

See it if You're a Mamet completist because I think he should have stopped writing long ago. There's nothing here to recommend.

Don't see it if You want a coherent story with actors are capable or you will be annoyed with scene changes every 10 mins in silence.

Also Mrs. David Mamet is one of the worst actresses I've seen on a NYC stag... Read more Read less

Great acting, Disappointing, Slow, Well intentioned, Mamet-esque

See it if you want to see some good acting overall & are prepared for a halting Mamet-esque style and writing. If you go, stay for Act II.

Don't see it if you aren't prepared to be puzzled and unsure thru much of the piece. Or want to see HAMILTON.

Flat, Banal, Predictable, Low key

See it if You'd appreciate a stretched out writing exercise or a mostly advanced scene study class with third year directing/second year staging.

Don't see it if You're expecting a fully realized play, sensible plot and dramatic structure or want to see vintage Mamet.

Also Short, with a creaky, sieve-like plot whose anemic machinations are ob... Read more Read less

Edgy, Great acting, Intelligent, Indulgent, Mannered

See it if you like Mamet and enjoy actors who specialize in his style.

Don't see it if you dislike Mamet or have never seen his work (there are much better places to start.)

Thought-provoking, Interesting, Wordy

See it if you want a play about difficult moral dilemmas. Some of the scenes have good dialog. Ending is a bit of a surprise.

Don't see it if you want action. The first act is a bit annoying with a lot of repetitive dialog. Second act is a bit better.

Banal, Disappointing

See it if you love Mamet and love plays about doctor/patient relationships.

Don't see it if you want meaningful dialogue that builds.

Also The play keeps repeating words and has a surprise, annoying answer at ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Great writing

See it if You enjoy Mamet's plays. Interesting subject matter and themes involving mental health,law,religion, and press. Excellent cast.

Don't see it if Play is better suited for professionals in aforementioned fields than the general public. Mamet appears to have major issues with psychiatry

Ambitious, Indulgent, Disappointing, Cliched

See it if You enjoy shows that do a lot of talking. Each character is a familiar-predictable type. Rationalization for action taken is chilling.

Don't see it if You don't prefer David Mamet style of theater. This one is like Oleanna. That should say enough.

Great acting, Slow

See it if You'd enjoy well-acted scenes that involve the lawyer (which are well-acted and interesting)..

Don't see it if would be bored by the repetitive scenes with the wife (those scenes are poorly acted & just plain boring)

Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if you like plays of ideas, tinged with some relevance (press manipulation of truth, dr/patient confidentiality, etc), & don't mind imperfect

Don't see it if you worship Mamet (because this doesn't stand up to his best) or you're looking for a non-serious work, comedy, or musical

Loved early mamet; not so much late mamet - this is late mamet

See it if Mamet displays brilliant ability 2 pick apart psychology & legal professions/press; features intense 1-on-1 adversarial scenes

Don't see it if tho Mamet has great ideas, difficulty dramatizing them; cast not capture mesmerizing mametian cadences; shocking ending undercuts play

Dry, Clever, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Slow

See it if Principles vs. self-interest. The pace picks up in the second act. The revelations make you rethink the motivations of the characters.

Don't see it if The first (and longer) act is belabored. Characters repeat themselves and don't seem to act sensibly. Could use more wit/humor.

Absorbing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Profound, Relevant

See it if you enjoy a play that requires you to think and confront serious issues regarding the law, doctor patient confidentiality and religion.

Don't see it if you prefer theater that does not encourage deep thought and later discussion.

Also All the actors were great except for the female lead who's performance... Read more Read less

Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Confusing, Slow

See it if You are a Mamet and/or Chris Bauer fan. Like plays about legal morality decisions. Do not mind slow moving drama in a spartan set.

Don't see it if You expect a fast- paced Mamet play with lots of objectionable language. Do not like legal dilemmas.

Disappointing, Slow, Dull, This is a mamet play?

See it if you will stand by David Mamet no matter what. See it if you didn't get to see China Doll.

Don't see it if you want an engaging play that makes you think. I was expecting something better from Mr. Mamet.