In David Mamet's hands a pen becomes a whip
With a build as solid as a meatpacker and hair cut short enough to look hostile, David Mamet seems as if he would be more comfortable throwing someone up against a wall than writing award-winning dramas.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
He is a street fighter's Peter Pan - a short, stocky kid who cut his teeth on inner-city Chicago and refused to concede anything. His energetic pugnacity permeates not only his appearance but, more importantly, his work as a writer.
He wanted desperately to be an actor, but stumbled into playwriting after college. Freely admitting he is the quintessential ''angry young man,'' Mamet has fueled his career on tough emotions. Yet in an interview it is apparent that he possesses a sensitivity that decries the nation's dearth of spirituality.
In the 10 years he has been writing, America has sat up and noticed.
His first works of note - ''American Buffalo'' and ''Sexual Perversity in Chicago'' - earned Mamet a flurry of awards and a reputation as a promising new playwright. Then, more recently, the writer has kept a lower profile, turning his attention to film. Two screenplays - the remake of ''The Postman Always Rings Twice'' and ''The Verdict'' - bear his name. But his play ''Edmond,'' which opened Off-Broadway nearly 18 months ago, played to poor reviews and a short run.
Now Mamet's newest work, ''Glengarry Glen Ross,'' may be about to put the writer's name back in lights. Premiering last fall to enthusiastic response at Britain's National Theatre and last month in Chicago's Goodman Theater, this latest Mamet play is set to open in New York March 25. Concurrently, a revival of ''American Buffalo'' starring Al Pacino is on a national tour after a successful New York run.
A sobering look inside a Chicago real estate office, ''Glengarry Glen Ross'' mines themes similar to those in ''American Buffalo,'' namely man's inhumanity to man as fostered by an entrepreneurial capitalism. London critics called ''Glengarry'' revelatory in its treatment of ''the empty American dream.
Mamet's concerns are unabashedly American. Unlike British dramatists who tend to splash characters against a broad political canvas, Mamet focuses intently on modern individual man and his inner turmoil - and how that corrupts and sabotages his relationships with others. In his dramas his trademark is the exploration of man's present tendencies to sustain himself at the expense of his fellowman. Whether his plays are set in a cabin in the woods, a freighter, or a junk shop, Mamet creates a world that seems permeated by urban brutality and fierceness.
Despite expert comic touches that surface now and again, these moments of dark humor are like bubbles bursting on the surface of a dead sea. Mamet relies on nonlinear plot lines and short, staccato scenes, and his real strength as a dramatist lies in his use of dialogue. His characters speak in spare and often vulgar street language, but it is a technique that has earned him critical acclaim.
''Mr. Mamet has demonstrated an uncommon ability to hear the voices of inarticulate America and to limn the society that oppresses them,'' writes the New York Times's chief theater critic, Frank Rich. Mamet's plays are littered with the voices of people which some observers have called the darker side of ourselves. ''I don't do anything other than write down those thoughts that everyone has,'' the playwright said in an interview.