Mamet, David (Alan) 1947-
MAMET, David (Alan) 1947-
PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "Mam-et"; born November 30, 1947, in Chicago IL; son of Bernard Morris (an attorney) and Lenore June (a teacher; maiden name, Silver) Mamet; married Lindsay Crouse (an actress), December 21, 1977 (divorced); married Rebecca Pidgeon (an actress), 1991; children: Willa, Zosia, Clara. Education: Attended Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater, 1968-69; Goddard College, B.A., 1969. Politics: "The last refuge of the unimaginative." Religion: "The second-to-last."
ADDRESSES: Agent—Howard Rosenstone, Rosenstone/Wender, 3 East 48th St., New York, NY 10017.
CAREER: Playwright, screenwriter, director, and producer. Marlboro College, special lecturer in drama, 1970. St. Nicholas Theater Company, Chicago, IL, founder, 1973, artistic director, 1973-76, member of board of directors, beginning 1973; Goodman Theater, Chicago, associate artistic director, 1978-79. Goddard College, artist-in-residence in drama, 1971-73; Illinois Arts Council, faculty member, 1974; University of Chicago, visiting lecturer in drama, 1975-76 and 1979; Yale University, School of Drama, teaching fellow, 1976-77; New York University, guest lecturer, 1981; Columbia University, associate professor of film, 1988. Producer of motion pictures, including Lip Service, 1988, Hoffa, 1992, and A Life in the Theater, 1993. Actor in motion pictures, including Black Widow, 1986, and The Water Engine, 1992. Directed Ricky Jay: On the Stem, 2002, and "Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants." Has also worked in a canning plant, a truck factory, at a real estate agency, and as a window washer, office cleaner, and taxi driver. Atlantic Theater Company, chairman of the board.
MEMBER: Dramatists Guild, Writers Guild of America, Actors Equity Association, PEN, United Steelworkers of America, Randolph A. Hollister Association.
AWARDS, HONORS: Joseph Jefferson Award, 1975, for Sexual Perversity in Chicago, and 1976, for American Buffalo; Obie Awards, Village Voice, for best new American play, 1976, for Sexual Perversity in Chicago and American Buffalo, for best American play, 1983, for Edmond, and for best play, 1995, for The Cryptogram; Children's Theater grant, New York State Council on the Arts, 1976; Rockefeller grant, 1976; Columbia Broadcasting System fellowship in creative writing, 1976; New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best American play, 1977, for American Buffalo, and 1984, for Glengarry Glen Ross; Outer Critics Circle Award, 1978, for contributions to the American theater; Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1983, for The Verdict, and 1997, for Wag the Dog; Society for West End Theatre Award, 1983; Pulitzer Prize for drama, Joseph Dintenfass Award, Elizabeth Hull-Warriner Award, Dramatists Guild, Antoinette Perry ("Tony") Award nomination, American Theater Wing, for best play, all 1984, all for Glengarry Glen Ross; Tony Award nomination for best reproduction of a play, 1984, for American Buffalo; Tony Award for best play, 1988, for Speed-the-Plow; American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Literature, 1986; Golden Globe Award nomination for best screenplay, 1988, for House of Games; Writers Guild Award nomination for best screenplay based on material from another medium, 1988, for The Untouchables.
Lakeboat (one-act; produced in Marlboro, VT, 1970; revised version produced in Milwaukee, WI, 1980), Grove (New York, NY), 1981.
Duck Variations (one-act; produced in Plainfield, VT, 1972; produced Off-Off-Broadway, 1975), published in Sexual Perversity in Chicago and Duck Variations: Two Plays, Grove (New York, NY), 1978.
Sexual Perversity in Chicago (one-act; produced in Chicago, 1974; produced Off-Off-Broadway, 1975), published in Sexual Perversity in Chicago and Duck Variations: Two Plays, Grove (New York, NY), 1978.
Squirrels (one-act), produced in Chicago, 1974.
The Poet and the Rent: A Play for Kids from Seven to 8:15 (produced in Chicago, 1974), published in Three Children's Plays, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1986.
American Buffalo (two-act; produced in Chicago, 1975; produced on Broadway, 1977), Grove (New York, NY), 1977.
Reunion (one-act; produced with Sexual Perversity in Chicago, Louisville, KY, 1976; produced Off-Broadway with Dark Pony and The Sanctity of Marriage, 1979), published in Reunion and Dark Pony: Two Plays, Grove (New York, NY), 1979, also published in Reunion, Dark Pony, and The Sanctity of Marriage: Three Plays, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1982.
Dark Pony (one-act; produced with Reunion, New Haven, CT, 1977; produced Off-Broadway with Reunion and The Sanctity of Marriage, 1979), published in Reunion and Dark Pony: Two Plays, Grove (New York, NY), 1979, also published in Reunion, Dark Pony, and The Sanctity of Marriage: Three Plays, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1982.
All Men Are Whores (produced in New Haven, 1977), published in Short Plays and Monologues, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1981.
A Life in the Theatre (one-act; produced in Chicago, 1977; produced Off-Broadway, 1977), Grove (New York, NY), 1978.
The Revenge of the Space Pandas; or, Binky Rudich and the Two-Speed Clock (produced in Queens, NY, 1977), Sergel (Chicago, IL), 1978.
(And director) The Woods (two-act; produced in Chicago, 1977; produced Off-Broadway, 1979), Grove (New York, NY), 1979.
The Water Engine: An American Fable (two-act; produced as a radio play on the program Earplay, Minnesota Public Radio, 1977; stage adaptation produced in Chicago, 1977; produced Off-Broadway, 1977), published in The Water Engine: An American Fable and Mr. Happiness: Two Plays, Grove (New York, NY), 1978.
Mr. Happiness (produced with The Water Engine, on Broadway, 1978), published in The Water Engine: An American Fable and Mr. Happiness: Two Plays, Grove (New York, NY), 1978.
Lone Canoe; or, The Explorer (musical), music and lyrics by Alaric Jans, produced in Chicago, 1979.
The Sanctity of Marriage (one-act; produced Off-Broadway with Reunion and Dark Pony, 1979), published in Reunion, Dark Pony, and The Sanctity of Marriage: Three Plays, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1982.
Shoeshine (one-act; produced Off-Off-Broadway, 1979), in Short Plays and Monologues, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1981.
Short Plays and Monologues, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1981.
A Sermon (one-act), produced Off-Off-Broadway, 1981.
Donny March, produced 1981.
Litko (produced in New York, NY, 1984), published in Short Plays and Monologues, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1981.
Edmond (produced in Chicago, 1982; produced Off-Broadway, 1982), Grove (New York, NY), 1983.
The Disappearance of the Jews (one-act), produced in Chicago, 1983.
The Dog, produced 1983.
Film Crew, produced 1983.
4 A.M., produced 1983.
Glengarry Glen Ross (two-act; produced on London's West End, 1983; produced on Broadway, 1984), Grove (New York, NY), 1984.
Five Unrelated Pieces (contains Two Conversations, Two Scenes, and Yes, but So What; produced Off-Off-Broadway, 1983), published in A Collection of Dramatic Sketches and Monologues, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1985.
Vermont Sketches (contains Pint's a Pound the World Around, Deer Dogs, Conversations with the Spirit World, and Dowsing; produced in New York, NY, 1984), published in A Collection of Dramatic Sketches and Monologues, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1985.
The Shawl [and] Prairie du Chien (one-act plays; produced at Lincoln Center, New York, NY, 1985), Grove (New York, NY), 1985.
A Collection of Dramatic Sketches and Monologues, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1985.
Vint (one-act; based on Anton Chekov's short story; produced in New York, NY, with six other one-act plays based on Chekov's short works, under the collective title Orchards, 1985), published in Orchards, Grove (New York, NY), 1986.
(Adaptor) Anton Chekov, The Cherry Orchard (produced at Goodman Theatre, 1985), Grove (New York, NY), 1987.
Three Children's Plays (contains The Poet and the Rent: A Play for Kids from Seven to 8:15, The Revenge of the Space Pandas; or, Binky Rudich and the Two-Speed Clock, and The Frog Prince), Grove (New York, NY), 1986.
The Woods, Lakeboat, Edmond, Grove (New York, NY), 1987.
Speed-the-Plow (produced on Broadway, 1988), Grove (New York, NY), 1988.
Where Were You When It Went Down?, produced in New York, NY, 1988.
(Adaptor and editor) Anton Chekov, Uncle Vanya, Grove (New York, NY), 1989.
Goldberg Street (short plays and monologues), Grove (New York, NY), 1989.
Bobby Gould in Hell, produced with The Devil and Billy Markham by Shel Silverstein, New York, NY, 1989.
Five Television Plays: A Waitress in Yellowstone; Bradford; The Museum of Science and IndustryStory; A Wasted Weekend; We Will Take You There, Grove (New York, NY), 1990.
Oleanna (also see below; produced 1991), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1992, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1993.
(Adaptor) Anton Chekov, The Three Sisters: A Play, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1992.
A Life with No Joy in It, and Other Plays and Pieces (contains Almost Done, Monologue, Two Enthusiasts, Sunday Afternoon, The Joke Code, A Scene, Fish, A Perfect Mermaid, Dodge, L.A. Sketches, A Life with No Joy in It, Joseph Dintenfass, and No One Will Be Immune), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1994.
Plays—One (collection; includes Duck Variations, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, Squirrels, American Buffalo, The Water Engine, and Mr. Happiness), Methuen (London, England), 1994.
(And director) The Cryptogram (also see below; produced in London, 1994; produced Off-Broadway, 1995), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1995, Vintage (New York, NY), 1995.
The Old Neighborhood: Three Plays (also see below; includes The Disappearance of the Jews, Jolly, and Deeny), Vintage (New York, NY), 1998.
Boston Marriage (produced at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA, 1999, produced at Joseph Papp Public Theater, 2002), Vintage (New York, NY), 2002.
David Mamet Plays: 4 (includes The Cryptogram, Oleanna, and The Old Neighborhood), Methuen (London, England), 2002.
(Director) Ricky Jay: On the Stem, produced at the Second Stage Theatre, New York, NY, 2002.
Dr. Faustus: A Play, Vintage (New York, NY), 2004.
The Postman Always Rings Twice (adaptation of the novel by James M. Cain), Paramount, 1981.
The Verdict (adaptation of the novel by Barry Reed), Columbia, 1982.
(And director) House of Games (based on a story by Mamet; produced by Orion Pictures, 1987), Grove (New York, NY), 1987.
The Untouchables (based on the television series), Paramount, 1987.
(With Shel Silverstein; and director) Things Change (produced by Columbia Pictures, 1988), Grove (New York, NY), 1988.
We're No Angels (adaptation of the 1955 film of the same name; produced by Paramount, 1989), Grove (New York, NY), 1990.
(And director) Homicide (produced by Columbia, 1991), Grove (New York, NY), 1992.
Glengary Glen Ross (based on Mamet's play of the same title), New Line Cinema, 1992.
The Water Engine (teleplay; based on Mamet's play of the same title), Amblin Television, 1992.
Hoffa, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1992.
Texan (film short), Chanticleer Films, 1994.
(And director) Oleanna (based on Mamet's play of the same title), Samuel Goldwyn, 1994.
Vanya on 42nd Street (adapted from the play Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov), Film Four International, 1994.
American Buffalo (based on Mamet's play of the same title), Samuel Goldwyn, 1996.
(And director) The Spanish Prisoner, Sweetland Films, 1997, published in The Spanish Prisoner and The Winslow Boy: Two screenplays, Vintage (New York, NY), 2002.
The Edge, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1997.
Wag the Dog (based on the novel American Hero by Larry Beinhart), New Line Cinema, 1997.
Lansky, HBO, 1998.
(And director) State and Maine, Fine Line Pictures, 2000.
Lakeboat, Oregon Trail Films, 2000.
Whistle, Geisler-Roberdeau, 2000.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson), 2000.
(With Steven Zaillian) Hannibal (based on the novel by Thomas Harris), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2001.
(And director) Heist, Morgan Creek Productions, 2001.
The Village, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1994.
The Old Religion: A Novel (historical fiction), Free Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Bar Mitzvah, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1999.
The Chinaman, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1999.
Henrietta, Houghton Mifflin (New York, NY), 1999.
Jafsie and John Henry, Free Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Wilson: A Consideration of the Sources, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2001.
nonfiction, except as noted
Writing in Restaurants (essays, speeches, and articles), Penguin (New York, NY), 1987.
Some Freaks (essays), Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
(With Donald Sultan and Ricky Jay) Donald Sultan: Playing Cards, edited by Edit deAk, Kyoto Shoin (Kyoto, Japan), 1989.
The Hero Pony: Poems, Grove Weidenfeld (New York, NY), 1990.
On Directing Film, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.
The Cabin: Reminiscence and Diversions, Random House (New York, NY), 1992.
A Whore's Profession: Notes and Essays (includes Writing in Restaurants, Some Freaks, On Directing Film, and The Cabin), Faber (New York, NY), 1994.
Make-Believe Town: Essays and Remembrances, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.
True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor (essays), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1997.
Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama (part of the "Columbia Lectures on American Culture" series), Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1998.
On Acting, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.
(Author of foreword) Jimmy Kennedy, Maya Kennedy, and Marialisa Calta, River Run Cookbook: Southern Comfort from Vermont, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
South of the Northeast Kingdom, National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), 2002.
(With Lawrence Kushner) Five Cities of Refuge: Weekly Reflections on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Warm and Cold (picture book), illustrations by Donald Sultan, Solo Press (New York, NY), 1984.
(With wife, Lindsay Crouse) The Owl, Kipling Press (New York, NY), 1987.
Passover (picture book), illustrated by Michael McCurdy, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
The Duck and the Goat (picture book), illustrated by Maya Kennedy, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Also author of No One Will Be Immune and Other Plays and Pieces; the play Oh Hell; the teleplay A Life in the Theater, based on Mamet's play of the same title; and episodes of the TV series Hill Street Blues, NBC, 1987, and L.A. Law, NBC. Contributor to Donald Sultan: in the Still-Life Tradition, with Steven Henry Madoff, 1999. Contributing editor, Oui, 1975-76.
ADAPTATIONS: The film About Last Night…, released by Tri-Star Pictures in 1986, was based on Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago.
SIDELIGHTS: David Mamet has acquired a great deal of critical recognition for his plays, each one a microcosmic view of the American experience. "He's that rarity, a pure writer," noted Jack Kroll in Newsweek, "and the synthesis he appears to be making, with echoes from voices as diverse as Beckett, Pinter, and Hemingway, is unique and exciting." Since 1976, Mamet's plays have been widely produced in regional theaters and in New York City. One of Mamet's most successful plays, Glengarry Glen Ross, earned the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best American play and the Pulitzer Prize in drama, both in 1984. Critics have also praised Mamet's screenwriting; he received Academy Award nominations for best adapted screenplay for The Verdict in 1983, and for Wag the Dog in 1997.
Mamet "has carved out a career as one of America's most creative … playwrights," observed Mel Gussow in the New York Times, "with a particular affinity for working-class characters." These characters and their language give Mamet's work its distinct flavor. Mamet is, according to Kroll, "that rare bird, an American playwright who's a language playwright." "Playwriting is simply showing how words influence actions and vice versa," Mamet explained to People contributor Linda Witt. "All my plays attempt to bring out the poetry in the plain, everyday language people use. That's the only way to put art back into the theater." Mamet has been accused of eavesdropping, simply recording the insignificant conversations of which everyone is aware; yet, many reviewers recognize the playwright's artistic intent. Jean M. White commented in the Washington Post that "Mamet has an ear for vernacular speech and uses cliche with telling effect." Furthermore, added Kroll, "Mamet is the first playwright to create a formal and moral shape out of the undeleted expletives of our foul-mouthed time."
In his personal and creative life, Mamet has resisted the lure of Broadway, its establishment, and its formulas for success. He was born and raised in Chicago—his father was a labor lawyer. His parents divorced while Mamet and his sisters were young. The Windy City serves not only as inspiration for much of his work, but it has also provided an accepting audience for Mamet's brand of drama, especially in the early days of his career, when he worked nights as a busboy at The Second City and spent his days with the theater crowd and writing his plays. "Regional theaters are where the life is," he told Robin Reeves in Us."They're the only new force in American theater since the 30s." Yet, despite Mamet's seeming indifference to Broadway and the fact that the language and subject matter of his plays make them of questionable commercial value, several of his plays have been featured on Broadway.
The first of Mamet's plays to be commercially produced were Sexual Perversity in Chicago and Duck Variations. Sexual Perversity portrays the failed love affair between a young man and woman, each trying to leave behind a relationship with a homosexual roommate. The dialogue between the lovers and their same-sex roommates reveals how each gender can brutally characterize the other. Yet, "the play itself is not another aspect of the so-called battle of the sexes," observed C. Gerald Fraser in the New York Times. "It concerns the confusion and emptiness of human relationships on a purely physical level." New Yorker reviewer Edith Oliver maintained that "the piece is written with grace," and found it "one of the saddest comedies I can remember." In Duck Variations, two old Jewish men sit on a bench in Chicago looking out on Lake Michigan. Their observation of the nearby ducks leads them into discussions of several topics. "There is a marvelous ring of truth in the meandering, speculative talk of these old men," maintained Oliver, "the comic, obsessive talk of men who spend most of their time alone, nurturing and indulging their preposterous notions." In the conversation of these men, wrote T. E. Kalem in Time, Mamet "displays the Pinter trait of wearing word masks to shield feelings and of defying communication in the act of communicating." Duck Variations reveals, according to Oliver, that Mamet is an "original writer, who cherishes words and, on the evidence at hand, cherishes character even more." "What emerges is a vivid sense of [the old men's] friendship, the fear of solitude, the inexorable toll of expiring lives," concluded Kalem.
Mamet emerged as a nationally acclaimed playwright with his 1975 two-act American Buffalo. "America has few comedies in its repertory as ironic or as audacious as American Buffalo," proclaimed John Lahr in the Nation. Set in a junk shop, the play features the shop's owner, an employee, and a friend engaged in plotting a theft; they hope to steal the coin collection of a customer who, earlier in the week, had bought an old nickel at the shop. When the employee fails to tail the mark to his home, the plot falls into disarray. Although little takes place, Oliver commented in the New Yorker, "What makes [the play] fascinating are its characters and the sudden spurts of feeling and shifts of mood— the mounting tension under the seemingly aimless surface, which gives the play its momentum."
American Buffalo confirmed Mamet's standing as a language playwright. Reviewing the play in the Nation, Lahr observed, "Mamet's use of the sludge in American language is completely original. He hears panic and poetry in the convoluted syntax of his beleaguered characters." As Frank Rich of the New York Times remarked, "Working with the tiniest imaginable vocabulary … Mamet creates a subterranean world with its own nonliterate comic beat, life-and-death struggles, pathos and even affection."
In this play, critics also saw Mamet's vision of America, "a restless, rootless, insecure society which has no faith in the peace it seeks or the pleasure it finds," interpreted Lahr. "American Buffalo superbly evokes this anxious and impoverished world." Its characters, though seemingly insignificant, reflect the inhabitants of this world and their way of life. "In these bumbling and inarticulate meatheads," believed Lahr, "Mamet has found a metaphor for the spiritual failure of entrepreneurial capitalism."
Since its first Chicago production in 1975, American Buffalo has been produced in several regional theaters and has had three New York productions. In Mamet's management of the elements of this play, New York Times reviewer Benedict Nightingale highlighted the key to its success: "Its idiom is precise enough to evoke a city, a class, a subculture; it is imprecise enough to allow variation of mood and feeling from production to production." Nightingale added in another article, "Buffalo is as accomplished as anything written for the American stage over … the last twenty years."
In 1979 Mamet was given his first opportunity to write a screenplay. As he told Don Shewey in the New YorkTimes, working on the screenplay for the 1981 film version of James M. Cain's novel The Postman Always Rings Twice was a learning experience. Director Bob Rafelson "taught me that the purpose of a screenplay is to tell the story so the audience wants to know what happens next," Mamet maintained, "and to tell it in pictures." He elaborated, "I always thought I had a talent for dialogue and not for plot, but it's a skill that can be learned. Writing for the movies is teaching me not to be so scared about plots." Mamet's screenplay for The Postman Always Rings Twice has received mixed reviews. Its critics often point, as Gene Siskel did in the Chicago Tribune, to Mamet's "ill-conceived editing of the book's original ending." Yet, except for the ending, suggested Vincent Canby in the New York Times, "Mr. Mamet's screenplay is far more faithful to the novel than was the screenplay for Tay Garnett's 1946 version." Thus, Robert Hatch noted in the Nation,"Mamet and Rafelson recapture the prevailing insanity of the Depression, when steadiness of gaze was paying no bills and double or nothing was the game in vogue."
In the 1982 film The Verdict, screenwriter Mamet and director Sydney Lumet "have dealt powerfully and unsentimentally with the shadowy state that ideas like good and evil find themselves in today," observed Jack Kroll in Newsweek. The film stars Paul Newman as a washed-up lawyer caught in a personal, legal, and moral battle. "Mamet's terse screenplay for The Verdict is … full of surprises," contended Janet Maslin in the New York Times; "Mamet has supplied twists and obstacles of all sorts." "Except for a few lapses of logic and some melodramatic moments in the courtroom," proclaimed a People reviewer, "[this] script from Barry Reed's novel is unusually incisive." Kroll detailed the screenplay's strong points, calling it "strong on character, on sharp and edgy dialogue, on the detective-story suspense of a potent narrative." In a New Republic article, Stanley Kauffmann concluded, "It comes through when it absolutely must deliver: Newman's summation to the jury. This speech is terse and pungent: the powerful have the power to convert all the rest of us into victims and that condition probably cannot be changed, but must it always prevail?"
After writing The Verdict Mamet began working on his next play, Glengarry Glen Ross. Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning play is "so precise in its realism that it transcends itself," observed Robert Brustein in the New Republic,"and takes on reverberant ethical meanings. It is biting, … showing life stripped of all idealistic pretenses and liberal pieties." The play is set in and around a Chicago real estate office whose agents are embroiled in a competition to sell the most parcels in the Florida developments Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms. "Craftily constructed, so that there is laughter, as well as rage, in its dialogue, the play has a payoff in each scene and a cleverly plotted mystery that kicks in with a surprise hook at its ending," wrote Richard Christiansen in the Chicago Tribune.
As in Mamet's earlier plays, the characters and their language are very important to Glengarry Glen Ross. In the Nation, Stephen Harvey commented on Mamet's ability to create characters who take on a life of their own within the framework of the play: In Glengarry, "he adjusts his angle of vision to suit the contours of his characters, rather than using them to illustrate an idea." Mamet told Kastor of the Washington Post,"I think that people are generally more happy with a mystery than with an explanation. So the less that you say about a character the more interesting he becomes." Mamet uses language in a similar manner. Harvey noted, "The pungency of Glengarry's language comes from economy: if these characters have fifty-word vocabularies, Mamet makes sure that every monosyllable counts." And as Kroll remarked, "His antiphonal exchanges, which dwindle to single words or even fragments of words and then explode into a crossfire of scatological buckshot, make him the Aristophanes of the inarticulate." Mamet is, according to New York Times reviewer Benedict Nightingale, "the bard of modern-day barbarism, the laureate of the four-letter word." In the New York Times Magazine, Richard Eder remarked, "From the beginning, Mr. Mamet's most notable and noticeable quality was his extraordinary use of speech. He concentrated not upon cultivated expression but upon that apparent wasteland of middle American speech. It was the language of the secretary, the salesman, the file clerk, the telephone lineman, the small-time crook, the semiliterate college kid. It was grotesquely realistic."
For the real estate agents in Glengarry Glen Ross, the bottom line is sales. And, as Robert Brustein noted, "Without a single tendentious line, without any polemical intention, without a trace of pity or sentiment, Mamet has launched an assault on the American way of making a living." Nightingale called the play "as scathing a study of unscrupulous dealing as the American theater has ever produced." The Pulitzer Prize awarded to Mamet for Glengarry Glen Ross not only helped increase its critical standing, but it also helped to make the play a commercial success. However, unlike his real estate agents, Mamet is driven by more than money. He told Kastor, "In our interaction in our daily lives we tell stories to each other, we gossip, we complain to each other, we exhort. These are means of defining what our life is. The theater is a way of doing it continually, of sharing that experience, and it's absolutely essential."
The Cryptogram, Mamet's 1994 play, "dramatizes a child's emotional abuse in a way that no other American play has ever attempted: from the child's point of view," according to New Yorker critic John Lahr. The playwright draws on his personal experiences of violent outbreaks, mistrust, and betrayal that he encountered in his own family, but the play blurs such autobiographical elements between its author's fictions. Taking place in Chicago over the span of a single month during the late 1950s, the play's main character, ten-year-old John, is trying to make sense of the double message dispensed by his parents and family friends: lies and unkept promises are commonplace, yet he is expected to trust those who deceive him. "People may or may not say what they mean," Mamet explained to Lahr, "but they always say something designed to get what they want." Characteristically, language plays an important role in The Cryptogram: as its author noted, "The language of love is … fairly limited. 'You're beautiful,' 'I need you,' 'I love you,' 'I want you.' Love expresses itself, so it doesn't need a lot of words. On the other hand, aggression has an unlimited vocabulary."
While Mamet's direction of The Cryptogram received the traditional mixed reviews from critics due to his fractured language, New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby found much to praise. Calling the play "a horror story that also appears to be one of Mr. Mamet's most personal plays," Canby noted, "It's not about the sort of physical abuse we see in television docudramas, but about the high cost of the emotional games played in what are otherwise considered to be fairly well-adjusted families." The Cryptogram received the Obie Award from the Village Voice for best play in 1995.
In 1994, on the heels of The Cryptogram, Mamet published his first novel, The Village. Taking place in a small, once-thriving town in New England, the novel reveals the emotional complexity of the lives of its characters. From Dick, the hardware-store owner fighting to stay in business, Manis, a local prostitute, and especially Henry, an "outsider" retired and escaping a failed marriage who wants to recapture the macho lifestyle of a century ago, Mamet captures "the flat, dark underside of the flapjack of small town life that Thorton Wilder's 'Our Town' served as the fluffy, arcing top to," according to Tribune Books reviewer Ross Field. While reviewers noted that the novel's characters and central idea are well conceived, the novel's dialogue caused some critics to water down their enthusiasm for the book. James McManus contended in the New York Times Book Review that, "because of the novel's design and mechanical problems, the potency of [some] scenes tends not to accumulate. For a playwright of such muscular succinctness, Mr. Mamet has a narrative prose that turns out to be weirdly precious." However, in his review for the Washington Post Book World, Douglas Glover praised The Village. "Mamet's novel explores a community with its own laws, language, codes, habits and sense of honor," noted Glover. "It does so with a deft reverence for the real—Mamet's eye for detail and his ear for the rhythms of vernacular speech are incomparable— coupled with a certain difficulty of approach, an avantgarde edge."
In addition to plays and screenplays, Mamet has published several collections of essays, including Writing in Restaurants, Some Freaks, On Directing Film, The Cabin, and Make-Believe Town, the first four volumes later collected as A Whore's Profession: Notes and Essays. These revealing collections are packed with Mamet's fascinating thoughts, opinions, recollections, musings, and reports on a variety of topics such as friendship, religion, politics, morals, society, and of course, the American theater. "The thirty pieces collected in David Mamet's first book of essays contain everything from random thoughts to firmly held convictions," stated Richard Christiansen in his review of Writing in Restaurants for Chicago's Tribune Books, "but they all exhibit the author's singular insights and moral bearing." Christiansen pointed out that "many of the essays have to do with drama, naturally, but whether he is talking to a group of critics or to fellow workers in the theater, Mamet is always urging his audience to go beyond craft and into a proud, dignified, loving commitment to their art and to the people with whom they work."
The Cabin, published in 1992, contains twenty essays that reflect their author's macho concerns—guns, cigars, beautiful women—as well as his life as a writer. The work's structure was characterized by Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Charles Solomon as "a succession of scenes illuminated by an erratic strobe light: A single moment appears in harsh focus, then vanishes." We follow the author from his tumultuous childhood in "The Rake" to a description of his New Hampshire haven where he does his writing in the title essay. The two dozen essays in Make-Believe Town recall Mamet's love of the theater and his respect for his Jewish heritage and introduce those "appalled" by the language of his stage plays to "Mamet the thoughtful learner, teacher, the friend, the literary critic, the hunger-nature writer, the culture, press and film critic, the political commentator, the moralist and, most delightfully, the memoirist," according to Tribune Books critic John D. Callaway.
With his play Boston Marriage, Mamet departed from his more well-known use of tough male characters to portray an elegant pair of Victorian lesbians. In this comedy of manners, Anna has become the mistress of a wealthy married man in order to supplement her income, and Claire has fallen in love with a younger woman. When that young woman wonders how Anna has acquired her mother's heirloom necklace, both affairs are endangered, leading the two women to concoct a complicated scheme to get themselves out of trouble. As a reviewer remarked in Curtain Up, this play, rather than being a radical departure for Mamet, "is in fact just another example of his versatility."
In 2001, Mamet took on two major projects. The first was a new novel, Wilson: A Consideration of Sources, which examines the impact of the Internet on society. Set far in the future, Wilson introduces a society dependent who has placed all information in books and paper archives on the Internet, destroying the original sources. When the Internet crashes, the only remaining source of information is the hard drive of Mrs. Wilson's computer. Mamet's book is composed in skewed sections as disorderly as the world he creates in it, much to the dismay of some critics. Frank J. Baldaro wrote in American Theatre that Wilson is "an incomprehensible work that spills over with names but is devoid of characters." Baldaro disliked the novel's structure, calling it a "collage of faked bits and fragments" which "teems with incidents and anecdotes, but lacks either plot or sense—it's ultimately a literary stunt that dares to ridicule the jargon and bombast of scholarly writing, but is itself monumentally unfunny, apocalyptically cryptic and impossible to decode." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly, however, liked the ridicule in Mamet's work. The reviewer called the work "an imitation of a scholarly work—or at least the sort of scholarly work that might be undertaken in the 24th century," concluding, "Mamet's jeu d'esprit will certainly surprise those who imagine the author of American Buffalo operates only in the backstreets idiom of his plays." Joseph Dewey of the Review of Contemporary Fiction appreciated Mamet's take on the future in Wilson: "Mamet targets with luscious savvy and deadpan irony the limitless pretense of academics, hungry for tenure, to suture history … to talk their way into reasonable order."
Mamet also penned a script for the film sequel to Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal. In the script, Hannibal has escaped prison and is hiding out in Florence, Italy, as a museum curator. FBI detective Clarice Starling (played in the second movie by Julianne Moore) is reassigned to his case and proceeds to track him down. While the sequel to the original thriller was anxiously awaited by audiences, some were disappointed at the movie's lack of horror, blood, and guts. "Hannibal is more shocking, and amusing, than disturbing," wrote Brian D. Johnson in Maclean's. Johnson also stated that "despite some exquisite moments, Hannibal feels overwrought." Todd McCarthy praised the first movie, remarking in Variety that "the public will … exhibit a ravenous appetite for the continuing saga of one of contemporary literature and cinema's most fascinating villains." McCarthy admitted that the sequel was "ultimately more shallow and crass at its heart than its predecessor," but concluded that "Hannibal is nevertheless tantalizing, engrossing, and occasionally startling."
Writing for the Times Literary Supplement, Andrew Hislop declared that "Mamet has been rightly acclaimed as a great dialogist and a dramatist who most effectively expresses the rhythms of modern urban America (though the poetic rather than mimetic qualities of his dialogue are often underestimated). The best writing in [Writing in Restaurants] comes when he muses on the details of America—and his own life." Hislop continued, "Running through the book is the idea that the purpose of theatre is truth but that the decadence of American society, television and the materialism of Broadway are undermining not just the economic basis but the disciplines and dedication necessary for true theatre."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bigsby, C. W. E., David Mamet, Methuen (London, England), 1985.
Bock, Hedwig, and Albert Wertheim, editors, Essays on Contemporary American Drama, Max Hueber (Munich, Germany), 1981, pp. 207-223.
Brewer, Gay, David Mamet and Film: Illusion/Disillusion in a Wounded Land, McFarland (Jefferson, NC), 1993.
Carroll, Dennis, David Mamet, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1987.
Contemporary Dramatists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 9, 1978, pp. 360-361; Volume 15, 1980, pp. 355-358; Volume 34, 1985, pp. 217-224; Volume 46, 1988, pp. 245-256; Volume 91, 1996, pp. 143-155.
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 27, Gale (Detroit, MI, 2000.
Dean, Anne, David Mamet: Language As Dramatic Action, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (Tea-neck, NJ), 1990.
Drama Criticism, Volume 4, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Kane, Leslie, David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross: Text and Performance, Garland (New York, NY), 1996.
Kane, Leslie, editor, David Mamet: A Casebook, Garland (New York, NY), 1991.
Kane, Leslie, Weasels and Wisemen: Education, Ethics, and Ethnicity in David Mamet, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
King, Kimball, Ten Modern American Playwrights, Garland (New York, NY), 1982.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
America, May 15, 1993, p. 16; September 23, 1995, p. 26; June 5, 1999, Richard A. Blacke, "Boy Overboard," p. 14.
American Theatre, December 1, 1999, p. 9; November, 2002, Frank J. Baldaro, review of Wilson: A Consideration of the Sources, p. 80; November 1, 2002, Frank J. Baldaro, review of Wilson, pp. 80-81; November 1, 2002, Randy Gener, "Speed the Plot: Six Playwrights Parlay Their Dramatic Themes into New Fiction," pp. 75-76; January 1, 2003, Jonathan Kalb, "Stardust Melancholy," pp. 42-49.
Back Stage, November 22, 2002, Julius Novick, review of Boston Marriage, p. 48.
Booklist, December 1, 1992; June 1, 1994.
Broadcasting & Cable, September 25, 2000, "CBS Teams with Mamet, Morrie Author," p. 28; September 30, 2002, "Pariah Television," p. 18.
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Financial Times, December 5, 2001, Alastair Macaulay, review of Boston Marriage, p. 18; May 17, 2002, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of Ricky: Jay on the Stem, p. 71.
Gentlemen's Quarterly, October, 1994, p. 110.
Georgia Review, fall, 1983, pp. 601-611.
Harper's, May, 1978, pp. 79-80, 83-87.
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Smithsonian, June 1, 2001, Kathleen Burke, review of River Run Cookbook: Southern Comfort from Vermont, p. 124.
Time, July 12, 1976; April 9, 1984, p. 105; December 25, 1989, pp. 87-90; August 24, 1992, p. 69; November 2, 1992, p. 69; October 18, 1993, p. 109; August 29, 1994, p. 71; May 17, 1999, Richard Corliss, "The Winslow Boy," p. 90; December 25, 2000, Joel Stein, "David Mamet," p. 164; January 15, 2001, Richard Corliss, review of State and Maine, p. 138; January 29, 2001, Jess Cagle, "The Bite Stuff," p. 60; November 19, 2001, Richard Schickel, review of Heist, p. 143.
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Variety, February 24, 1992, p. 257; May 11, 1992, p. 127; August 24, 1992, p. 65; April 5, 1993, p. 185; February 7, 1994, p. 60; June 21, 1999, Markland Taylor, review of Boston Marriage, p. 88; August 16, 1999, Michael Fleming, "Mamet Moves into Comedy with Maine," p. 13; November 1, 1999, Charles Isherwood, review of The Water Engine and Mr. Happiness, p. 99; January 17, 2000, Robert Hofler, review of Sexual Perversity in Chicago and The Duck Variations, p. 140; February 14, 2000, Matt Wolf, review of American Buffalo, p. 49; March 6, 2000, Robert L. Daniels, review of Glengarry Glen Ross, p. 50; March 20, 2000, Charles Isherwood, review of American Buffalo, p. 36; April 17, 2000, Emanuel Levy, review of Lakeboat, p. 28; September 4, 2000, Eddie Cockrell, review of State and Maine, p. 19; February 5, 2001, Todd McCarthy, review of Hannibal, p. 37; April 16, 2001, Matt Wolf, review of Boston Marriage, p. 39; September 10, 2001, David Rooney, review of Heist, p. 62; January 7, 2002, Chris Jones, review of Glengarry Glen Ross, p. 53; May 13, 2002, Charles Isherwood, review of Ricky Jay, p. 32; May 26, 2003, Matt Wolf, review of Sexual Perversity in Chicago, p. 42; August 4, 2003, Matt Wolf, review of Edmond, p. 30.
Village Voice, July 5, 1976, Ross Wetzsteon, profile of Mamet, pp. 101, 103-04; May 7, 1979, Eileen Blumenthal, review of The Woods, p. 103.
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CurtainUp, http://www.curtainup.com/ (May 28, 2003), review of Boston Marriage and Ricky Jay.
David Mamet Review (newsletter of the David Mamet Society), http://mamet.eserver.org/ (November 20, 2003).
FilmMakers, http://www.filmmakers.com/ (November 20, 2003), "David Alan Mamet: Filmography and Credits."
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (May 28, 2003), interview with Mamet.
Smithsonian Online, http://www.smithsonianmag.si.edu/ (November 20, 2003), "Book Reviews: River Run Cookbook."
Sony Pictures Web site, http://www.sonypictures.com/ (November 20, 2003), "Ricky Jay."*