post-anarchist side photoThirty-five years ago, a young woman participated in a political protest that went terribly wrong. The group of activists to which she belonged was typical for its time – opposed to the excesses and dehumanization of capitalism, the abuses of authoritarianism, and the limits that our cultures impose on our thoughts and perspectives. Though it’s unclear what the particular protest in question was intended to accomplish all parties can agree that it spiraled out of control. In its aftermath at least one police officer had been murdered, the group disbanded and its members scattered to hiding places around the world and this young woman, Cathy, found herself imprisoned for a life-term of no less than twenty-five years.

Cathy (played by Cindy Pastorius) is now approaching senior citizenship. She believes she’s no longer the same woman who committed that murder, nor is she the same woman who believed what her group preached. Time, as it inevitably does, has changed her. During her stay in prison, she has had multiple opportunities to reflect on her mistakes, learn new ways of thinkings and being, and take control of her identity. She has embraced those opportunities. She believes it is time for the system to recognize that she feels remorse for her actions and that she has been appropriately punished. She believes it’s time she was set free.


One woman stands between Cathy and freedom: the prison’s warden, Ann (played by Mary Grace Weir). These women know each other well; they have met many times during Cathy’s imprisonment, at minimum they have sat for conversations every time the possibility of Cathy’s parole loomed. Ann has been Cathy’s warden for most of her life as an inmate. Their relationship is a strange one, as a relationship between a prison warden and one of her inmates must inevitably be. They are different women from different worlds, but over time their relationship has become something more than predictably antagonistic. They understand each other with a depth that sometimes make them uncomfortable. They have learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They have learned details of each other’s lives. A strange sort of begrudging respect has developed between them. Nevertheless, it is Ann who holds the reigns of power in this relationship. It is Ann whose recommendation to the parole board will enable Cathy to live out her remaining years in freedom. It is Ann, therefore, who must be persuaded that Cathy feels genuinely remorseful and that she no longer needs to be punished.

But Ann does not believe these things. Ann, who is mere days from retirement, does not believe Cathy should be set free.

This is the premise of The Anarchist, one of David Mamet’s most obscure and most powerful plays. Mamet, a Pulitzer Prize-winner widely considered to be America’s best and most influential living playwright, was at the height of his literary prowess when he wrote The Anarchist, although it is among his least-known and least-produced scripts. The script deviates significantly from Mamet’s more popular work in several respects. Typically, his characters speak in a naturalistic working-class patois, constantly interrupting themselves and each other, communicating in fragmented slang and obscenities with a particular sort of rhythm that has been likened to the iambic pentameter used by Shakespeare. His plays tend to be grungy vignettes of morally flawed people making difficult decisions under intense pressure and draw heavily on intimate details about particular social strata and ways of life. Think of the amoral backstabbing characters in Glengarry Glen Ross for example, whose dialogue is peppered with the jargon of the real estate industry, and whose stories begin and end mid-scene. And consider the lowlifes who populate American Buffalo, inhabiting a tiny pawn shop, all of them desperate to become more than they are and to win their share of the American Dream by any means necessary. And let’s not forget the professor and student in Oleanna, each of them ambiguous and suspect, each of them devoted to their own power and interests over all else.

Cathy and Ann share some features typical of Mamet’s characters. Their motives and beliefs and values are ambiguous. They are preoccupied with their own power and desires. Both of them tend to speak in sentences that conceal their underlying meaning. But there’s a formalism, an old-fashioned concern with precise phrasing, to the dialogue in The Anarchist. This is because with this script Mamet is self-consciously paying homage to the styles and conventions of both medieval Christian morality plays and the philosophical dialogues of classical Greece (primarily those of Plato) and Enlightenment Europe (primarily those of George Berkeley and David Hume). These plays were attempts to work through moral and other philosophical problems by using conversations between characters who each had a personal stake in the matter at hand. Cathy and Ann perform these functions in The Anarchist. Through their relentless and intense conversation Mamet helps us address and understand important issues that straddle the boundaries between morality, law, politics, and language. In the hands of a lesser playwright, such a conversation would probably be irritatingly obvious, infuriatingly superficial, and hopelessly dull. So, we should all feel thankful that this script was written by a literary genius. The Anarchist, from the first line to the last, is thrilling, provocative, and deep in insights, nuances, and subtleties. This is a story that draws you in emotionally and leaves you laden with questions, perspectives, and ideas when it’s over.

One of the central controversies in this story is the nature of remorse. Is remorse something we feel or something we perform, whether authentically or deceptively? Or is it both? Think of how infrequently defendants and convicts are said to demonstrate real remorse in news stories about their trials and parole hearings. If we are to believe what the authors of these stories tell us, remorse is so rare that a typical person may never encounter it during their lifetime. Every purported demonstration of remorse by a defendant or convict is treated with a degree of skepticism far greater than that applied to the statements of police officers, judges, and lawyers – a degree of skepticism so difficult to overcome that it’s probably irrational. If we were to take this skepticism at face value, we would have to reconcile it with the contradictions posed by our own experiences. After all, each of us has probably experienced genuine remorse for something that we did wrong, whether that wrong was an accident or a mistake. Everyone reading this now can probably recall multiple instances from their own lives in which they truly felt remorseful for their words or actions. Remorse is an almost universal experience for human beings. So how can it be that when a human being becomes a defendant or a convict, they become incapable of actual remorse? This seems highly unlikely, if not blatantly false. The fact that someone has been charged with a crime does not make them less human.

Yet, even if we accept that all human beings – including defendants and convicts – are capable of, and often feel, remorse for their wrongdoing how can we distinguish a genuine and sincere demonstration from an inauthentic and deceptive demonstration of remorse? This is not easy to do and it’s a problem that plagues people like Cathy who need to convince parole boards (and in this case a prison warden as well) that they are truly remorseful for their misdeeds. Over the course of the story, Cathy provides several explanations of her remorse and many different reasons for Ann to believe that her remorse is genuine but Ann’s skepticism regarding Cathy’s expressions of remorse is easy to understand. Her career has no doubt involved interactions with many inmates who use the language of remorse deceptively, who perform rituals and customs of remorse as tools of persuasion rather than honest expression. It would be tempting for someone in Ann’s position to believe over time that every inmate is trying to deceive her. Yet Ann is a conscientious person who wants to do her job well. So, she needs to learn how to distinguish true remorse from false remorse. She wants to be able to make this distinction. But can she?

Beyond the moral and emotional questions regarding the feeling of remorse and the practical (and legal and political) questions about demonstrating remorse lie even deeper issues. In many religions remorse is entangled with forgiveness and redemption. This is also the case with many systems of morality. In short, remorse alone isn’t enough. Many people believe that remorse is one step toward forgiveness as the ultimate goal. Many people also believe that forgiveness is a necessary step toward judging whether someone has been sufficiently punished. So, whose forgiveness must Cathy seek? When it comes to parole, those responsible for making such decisions will often take into account whether society in general, and a victim’s family in particular, are ready and able to forgive the perpetrator. This is no simple matter. People hold on to resentment and withhold forgiveness for many different reasons, some of them irrelevant to remorse and many of them prone to abuse. Resentment is one of the most common motivations for human belief and action, something we struggle to overcome. In a situation like Cathy’s, the temptation for the victim’s family to hold onto their resentment forever must be immense – and this is why morality involves so much more than giving in to our emotions and can’t be reduced to what people want to do or what is easy to do. And forgiveness is a matter of power. The person who seeks forgiveness is always in a less powerful position than the person whose forgiveness is sought. How easy would it be for any of us to forgive someone who killed our parent or child or sibling? We would want power over that killer. Once we forgive, we lose that power. Overcoming the temptation to hold tightly to our power over the person who has wronged us, and let go of the resentment we feel toward them, would be extraordinarily difficult.

Redemption is often seen as a requirement for forgiveness. In short, we often believe that people can earn forgiveness through the performance of good deeds, thus earning redemption. But when it comes to redemption, we face many of the same difficulties that we face with remorse. What counts as a genuine act of redemption? How many good deeds are required? How many years must a person spend performing good deeds in order to earn redemption? These questions are raised during Ann and Cathy’s conversation along with something more fundamental and unsurprisingly more difficult: how pure must our motivations be for our good deeds to count as redemptive? For example, if someone volunteers to help homeless people receive meals and medical aide in order to earn redemption is that not a selfish motivation? If it is, can it truly be redemptive? We’re quicker to make judgments that answer these questions in the negative when it comes to people like Cathy, convicts and people we see as bad or evil. But our standards are much lower when it comes to people we like, or people we are already inclined to believe are good. It’s clear that our attitudes toward people are biased and that these biases affect our judgments about them. We’re quick to forgive Abraham for agreeing to murder his son Isaac, and almost succeeding, because he was following the orders of a god we’re biased to respect. All Abraham has to do to earn our forgiveness and mercy is to tell us that he was just following God’s orders – something we have no way of knowing is true. We wouldn’t require much of Abraham to earn redemption. Similarly, if someone we loved and thought was good accidentally murdered someone, we would be much quicker to accept their expressions of remorse, to view their good deeds as redemptive, and to forgive them than we would a stranger we believed was a bad person. Our biases guide our judgements far more frequently than our principles, values, and wisdom. Cathy is at a clear disadvantage.

During her time in prison, Cathy has tried one of the most common tactics to demonstrate remorse and earn forgiveness and redemption multiple times: she sought religion. Shortly after her sentence began Cathy met with a priest, a rabbi, and a Protestant minister. Ann is quick to insinuate that Cathy was religion shopping. She may be right about that, but that doesn’t mean that Cathy was disingenuous or insincere about her quest for spirituality and desire for religious guidance. Cathy was raised Jewish, but she seems to believe that either she was insufficiently devoted to that religion or that another religion might be a better path for her. She ended up choosing one of the Christian paths and over the decades seems to have consistently followed that path. Her writing is full of Christian language and ideas – as is evident in the memoirs she’s been writing. Ann, who has gotten a hold of Cathy’s manuscript, has read it extensively and continually questions the sincerity of Cathy’s writing. But she appears to be less concerned with the sincerity of Cathy’s religious convictions than she is with the reasons behind Cathy’s choice of religion. This brings us to one of Mamet’s central themes in The Anarchist, which could be expressed as follows: beliefs and commitments that rest on a shaky foundation, or a foundation of faith alone, are dangerous. Ann seems to believe this, and over the course of the play this idea is explored from a variety of perspectives that lead us to the play’s other central theme: all ideologies, whether they’re religious or political or legal, ultimately rest on a shaky and weak foundation. If this is true, then Cathy’s current Christian ideology is as dangerous as the Anarchist ideology that led her to murder a police officer thirty-five years ago. What Ann seems to be unable to see is that this is also true of her own ideological commitments to mainstream political, religious, and legal ideologies – ideologies that guide her biases, judgments, attitudes, and decisions. The Anarchist leaves us with the unsettling possibility that we are all unavoidably vulnerable to ideologies that shape our minds based on little more than faith, and are therefore dangerous whether they lead us to spend our lives caged in a prison cell like Cathy or, like Ann, caging others in those cells.

Post Productions is fortunate to have two of Windsor’s best actors in the roles of Cathy and Ann, actors whose skill and intelligence enables them to bring out all of the subtleties and nuances of the script while creating vivid characters audiences will simultaneously trust and distrust. Cathy is played by Cindy Pastorius, a veteran actor who has turned in memorable performances in plays by several theatre companies over the years. She first worked with Post Productions in True West (2017), following that with sensitive and memorable performances in Stop Kiss (2018), Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands (2020), and The Beauty Queen of Leenane (2021), among others. Her Cathy is a fiery and independent searcher who has approached her imprisonment thoughtfully, laying the foundation for eventual release. In her interactions with Ann, the audience will detect hints of who Cathy was before her conviction – a person not fully captured by the media’s portrayal of her as a naïve and foolish young woman deceived by a charismatic older man. Mary Grace Weir, who recently won the 2024 Windsor-Essex Critics Choice Theatre Award for her performance in The Children (2023), has been impressing audiences since debuting in the local theatre industry in The Fantastics at The KordaZone Theatre (2020). Her past work with Post Productions includes Three Tall Women (2022), and she recently directed, produced, and starred in a one-women show, Vitals, at The Shadowbox Theatre. Her Ann is a cautious, perceptive, and sharp woman who has made a career of dealing with unusually deceptive and even evil women. Audiences will be delighted by Mary Grace’s ability to convey information about Ann’s beliefs and values that are never explicitly mentioned. With this cast, The Anarchist is poised to become one of the most provocative and surprising theatrical experiences of the year.

The Anarchist by David Mamet will be performed at The Shadowbox Theatre (1501 Howard Ave. – corner of Howard & Shepherd) April 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19 & 20. Showtime 8:00 PM (doors open 7:30). Tickets can be purchased for $25 through or at the door (cash, debit, or credit card) if seats are still available. The play stars Cindy Pastorius and Mary Grace Weir. Directed by Michael K. Potter. Produced by Fay Lynn and Michael K. Potter. Posters and programs designed by Kris Simic. Presented by Post Productions in association with Windsor Feminist Theatre.

As seen in the February 2024 issue:


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