At 57, Debra Winger – the three-time Oscar nominated actress whose renunciation of acting over the past few decades inspired Rosanna Arquette’s 2003 documentary “Searching For Debra Winger” – is finally making her debut on the Broadway stage, in David Mamet’s upcoming production of “The Anarchist.”
“The Anarchist,” which also stars Broadway veteran Patti LuPone, opened on Sunday at the Golden Theatre. The play is loosely based on the Brink’s robbery, an armed robbery that took place at the Nanuet Mall in Rockland County, N.Y. in 1981, and was coordinated by revolutionaries from the Black Liberation Army and the Weather Underground. In the robbers’ attempt to steal $1.6 million from an armored Brink’s car, they killed two Nyack police officers and a mall security guard.
Among those arrested were Kathy Boudin and Judy Clark, both of whom drove in getaway cars during the robbery. In 2003, after 22 years in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, Boudin was paroled; Clark, however, remains in the same prison where she is serving out a 75-years-to-life sentence, the maximum penalty allowed by law at the time of her sentencing.
In an op-ed for the New York Times, Mamet described the moral dilemma at the heart of his play, writing, “In ‘The Anarchist,’ a woman has been convicted of murder, for participation in a bank robbery by a self-proclaimed political organization. She has served 35 years, a big portion of her life sentence, and pleads to be released; if the crime were mere robbery-murder and not deemed political, she would, by custom, have been paroled, with good behavior. Her argument has merit.”
Winger, a longtime environmental and human rights advocate whose activism played a large part in her desire to take on the role, plays a jailer in the show. In preparation for the role, Winger personally met with Clark and her former prison warden as research.
“I spent quite a bit of time with Judy Clark up at Bedford facility,” said Winger in an interview with the Journal News. “I spent the last three months visiting her, speaking with her lawyer and spending time with Elaine Lord, who was her previous warden.”
“And Judy has never been in front of a parole board, which to me is un-American,” Winger added. “The only one who can grant clemency is the governor, which is the right for Judy Clark to go before the parole board. Of course there is no ‘going before the parole board’ in New York state, another horror story I found in my research. There is only videotaped appearances in front of the parole board, which I think should be stopped immediately. I think it’s the most cowardly, un-American thing I’ve heard of. I’m not saying she should be free. I have my opinion on that. But she must be heard.”
Of her decision to take on another new role, Winger said she agreed only because of how polite Mamet was in his request, an aberration in Hollywood these days, she said.
“He’s arguably one of the top five living playwrights in the world and he called and asked me, like a gentleman,” said Winger. “He sent me the script and it spoke to me.”