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Friday, January 20, 2012

Where the F*ck is F*cking Mamet?

Alexis Soloski had a fascinating piece a few months ago in the Voice, in which he asked several prominent playwrights who they believe the greatest living playwright is.  The top choices were not terribly surprising, with Albee and Churchill leading the way.  What struck me as odd, is that there was no mention at all of David Mamet, who, with the exception of Albee (and possibly not) may be the best known playwright in the country.  I won’t go through Mamet’s whole CV here, especially since Wikipedia is back up and you can check for yourself, but we are all familiar with his plays, his prizes and his founding of one of the most influential theater companies in America.  So how can it be that he is left out of this conversation entirely, even by playwrights who hedged their bets and listed several favorites?  It seems to me that Mamet’s sacrilegious conversion to conservatism and the Republican party  may have a part to play in this.

I am certainly not suggesting that any of these playwrights, all of whom I have respect for, and many of whom I have known professionally and socially, said to themselves “well, Mamet’s pretty great, but I’m sure as hell not naming a Republican.”  Indeed with the possible exception of Machado, none of these playwrights are known for the kind of quick, harsh dialogue that is Mamet’s stock and trade, so its not surprising that they mainly chose writers closer to their own styles.  It also may be the case that Mamet’s success as a screenwriter has muddied the notion that he is first and foremost a playwright.

Still, the list put me in mind of a Jonah Goldberg article on Mamet’s political transformation from back in 2008.  Goldberg writes “Already, critics are saying his work is slipping. Soon, they will say his work was never that great to begin with”.  At the time I thought Goldberg was being a bit hyperbolic, after all, Pulitzers and Tony nominations are not easily struck from the historical record.  But seeing the list compiled by Soloski, I couldn’t help wondering, is this really happening?  I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that as far as politics are concerned theater operates with a left wing group think.  When an artist steps out of these accepted boundaries (and with the exception of the late Ron Silver, theater has very few examples of this) it is not greeted as a healthy diversity of philosophy, but a betrayal of the principles all “right” thinking people know to be true. 

I could be off base here, it may be that in a “top ten list” by these same writers Mamet would figure prominently.  Perhaps I will ask a few of them and report back to the blog.  


At January 20, 2012 at 9:36 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a broad topic asked. Mamet pretty much created a style and a genre singlehandedly. So, that's a Herculean task in and of itself. Problem is, he ran it into the ground and, in my opinion, never grew past where he started. Not to totally knock the man. Glengarry Glenross takes its place among the greatest American plays ever written, but after that you have American Buffalo, Sexual Pervosity (a personal fave), and a couple of others, and then a lot of mediocrity. Oleanna is particularly bad. Not because of the politics, sexual and otherwise. It's just not a good play.

If Lamford Wilson were alive, I'd probably nominate him. As it is, I would pick Sam Shepard, even though he also suffered from the same slow slide as Mamet. His works just speak to me a certain way. And I have a soft spot for Michael Weller as well.

As far as politics are concerned, it usually doesn't enter my mind (who knows if it entered the mind of the playwrights asked)I'm interested in human emotion and behavior and the interactions between characters and what it tells us about ourselves. If that's done well through the prism of political thought and position, I'm fine with it. If not, it's excrutiating. There's not worse theater than bad political theater.

At January 21, 2012 at 10:46 AM , Blogger Dave Marcus said...

Shepard is another interesting omission, though I'm not sure he has quite Mamet's cultural footprint. I'm not suggesting there is a conspiracy or that individuals are trying to punish Mamet's legacy for his beliefs. Goldberg might be saying that, I can't quite tell. If his politics are a contributing factor to a decline in his reputation, I'm sure it is unconscious on some level, one of many factors which push an artist into the rarified air of "greatest living..." or that drag them down a bit. Thanks for checking out Spotlight Right.

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