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.