Mamet was born on November 30, 1947, in Flossmore, Illinois, received
his B.A. at Goddard College in Vermont in 1969, and
became interested in theater while working as a busboy at the Second
City in Chicago. In that city he founded the St. Nicholas Theater Company, which
staged his early one-acts recently revived off-Broadway by the Atlantic
Theater Company. "American
Buffalo," which brought Mamet to prominence as a major American
dramatist, was first staged at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, moved
to St. Clements in New York in 1976, and from there to Broadway
is one of the few important American dramatists who regularly writes
for Hollywood, his latest films being “The Heist,” "The Spanish
Prisoner" and an adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play, "The
Winslow Boy." His
first film, "House of Games," is one of his best, treating
a favorite Mamet theme, that nothing is as it seems, that every
endeavor is a deceptive game, or as Mr. Mamet says in one of his
numerous books of essays, "the subject of drama is the Lie."
(Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama).
“House of Games,” Mamet’s former wife Lindsay Crouse plays a psychiatrist
who is drawn into the deceptive practices of a group of con men,
led by Joe Mantegna, with one trick leading to another and finally
to betrayal. Mantegna,
like William H. Macy, is a Mamet actor who started with Mamet in
Chicago and then became famous in films.
Mantegna originated the role of Richard Roma, the fast-talking
real estate salesman in "Glengarry Glen Ross" when it
first appeared on Broadway in 1983 and won the Pulitzer Prize.
Buffalo" is Mamet’s first major success, and it is frequently
revived. As the curtain
rises, we are greeted with the chaotic contents of Danny Dubrow's
junk shop, where Danny and his "gofor," young Bobby who
runs the errands, mostly going for food and coffee, are discussing
the poker game of the preceding evening, where Fletcher won all
the money (through cheating, we later discover.)
Bobby impresses one as being a bit dim, as when he reports
the failure of his assignment to watch and report on a man's leaving
a building. Danny is
obliquely paternal towards Bobby and looks out for his welfare --
suggesting he follow Fletcher's example: "That's what business
What? Dan: "People taking care of themselves."
enters, Bobby goes to fetch food, and Dan outlines to Teach the
"job" he and Bobby are planning, involving "coins."
Teach talks Dan out of using Bobby as too unreliable, and
in Bobby's place he and Fletcher will join the scheme to steal a
collection of American Buffalo nickels and other valuable coins.
How does Dan know there is such a collection?
A man paid Dan $90 for one buffalo nickel, after which Dan
followed him home, reasoning that that he must have more valuable
coins. When the men
gather that night for their caper, Bobby reveals that he actually
lied earlier when he reported that the man left the building, and
Teach, enraged, "hits Bobby viciously," and ravages the
audiences responded to in this Mamet premiere, with Robert Duvall
as Dan, was the characterization, the dialogue, and the wider implication
that the rough, inept trio and their failed plan constituted a microcosm
of big business, with its schemes, deceptions,
and betrayals. The
language was realistic in the sense that it sounded just as the
speech of these rough types should sound.
But it is not realism.
Mamet creates here and in his other dramas a staccato, rhythmic,
obscenity-ridden dialogue that is artistic and arresting, an instantly-recognizable
When Teach, at the end of "American Buffalo" goes
on a rampage in the junk shop at the end, he shouts, "The Whole
Entire World. There
Is No Law. There is No Right And Wrong.
The World is Lies.
There is No Friendship.
Every Fucking Thing.
The World. The
Whole Thing. Every
God Forsaken Thing. The
his play "A Life in the Theater" one of the actors remarks,
"Our aspirations in the Theater are much the same as
man's. . . . We are society."
That all the characters, whatever the situation, are role-playing
can be seen in his first film, "House of Games," where
a woman psychiatrist joins a group of con men who let her in on
their game and then trick her. When Mantegna, pretending to be a goodhearted former Marine
but is really conning a young serviceman out of his money, utters
the Marine motto semper fidelis, he translates it as "don't
the Plow" is set in Hollywood, where
Mamet encountered, as described in his book of essays, Some
and discourtesy, and inevitable cruelty of a world without friendship."
In the play, movie executives and even a secretary-reader
attempt to outmaneuver and out-trick each other. "Hollywood
is the city of the modern gold rush, and money calls the turn.
That is the first and last rule, as we know, of Hollywood
-- we permit ourselves to be treated like commodities in the hope
that we may, one day, be treated like valuable commodities,”
says Mamet in his essay.
Mamet's best play so far is "Glengarry Glen Ross," set
in a sleazy real-estate office, where the salesmen lie, trick, and
cheat not only their customers but also each other.
Like "American Buffalo," it revolves around a robbery;
this one materializes. An
older salesman, Moss, talks his contemporary, Aaranow, into stealing
the "leads," lists of good prospective customers, which
tough-guy manager Williamson will not share with them because he
favors hot-shot younger salesman Roma.
Roma's dextrous manipulation of his client and his lies to
prevent the client from reclaiming his deposit are a feat of deception
that impresses with its ability to role-play while at the same time
one pities his victim. The
excellent film based on the play stars Jack Lemmon as the desperate
Levene "the machine," Al Pacino as Roma, Ed Harris and
Alec Baldwin as fellow salesmen, and Alan Arkin as Aaronow, who
unwittingly finds himself an accomplice in theft.
Kevin Spacey is impressive as the unrelenting Williamson.
"Oleanna" Mamet dramatizes sexual harassment -- with a
difference. In act
one, college professor John (William H. Macy in the original production)
is visited by a student, Carol, (Rebecca Pidgeon) confused by his
lectures and his textbook.
John tries to help Carol by patiently explaining his approach,
but his academic jargon confuses her even more.
He offers to give her special help.
Playgoers leaving after act one on opening night missed the
turnabout in act two. Now Carol is in command, reviewing their earlier meeting in
terms of sexual harassment and bringing up charges against John
with the administration and threatening the loss of his house and
film, with Macy repeating his performance, is less successful, probably
because the audience's gender-based response was so much a part
of the theater experience, both at the off-Broadway Orpheum, where
the play opened, and in its London production, where David Suchet
and Lia Williams brought new fireworks to the two roles.
2001 Mamet’s “Boston Marriage” opened at the Donmar Warehouse in
London to excellent reviews and audience demand that brought it
back to the West End in 2002.
A ‘Boston marriage’ is a genteel euphemism for ladies who
live together as lesbians. Zoe Wanamaker was Anna and Anna Chancellor played Claire, the
middle-aged Victorian ladies who fall out over the favors of a young
woman Claire brings home with seduction in mind.
Instead of Mamet’s usual staccato dialogue, the women speak
like characters from Henry James who wandered through a Joe Orton
play on the way to the living room, all roses and chintz, where
the action takes place a century ago.
Mamet spoofs Victorian melodrama when the young woman’s heritage
is revealed, and he provides a hilarious last-minute plot twist
at the end.
of the playwrights most produced by major theaters in the past two
years, Mamet saw New York's Atlantic Theater Company devoted its entire
2000-01 season to his works. Productions included his 1976 one-act comedies
"Sexual Perversion in Chicago" and "Duck Variations,"
after which the Atlantic transferred “American Buffalo” from London’s
Donmar Warehouse. "Speed the Plow" was seen at both the
Atlantic and London's New Ambassadors, while Mamet's recent works,
"The Shawl" and "No One Will be Immune" concluded
the Atlantic season.