Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Exit David Mamet, Stage FAR Right

Remember David Mamet, America's greatest playwright? The guy who dominated the stages of the 1980s with plays like "American Buffalo," "Glengarry Glen Ross," and "A Life in the Theatre" and who wrote such wonderfully intricate screenplays as "House of Games" and "The Spanish Prisoner?"

Of course I'm really not talking about the man who wrote the largely unfunny satire "November," the oh-for-cripes-sake-stop-being-so-obvious social screed "Race," or the mediocre films "State and Main" and "Redbelt."
That guy is clearly just trying to ape the brilliant dialogue and dramatic construction of the younger, more talented and much more subtle playwright who shares his name.

Great playwrights write bad plays. Every would-be Shakespeare has a "Two Noble Kinsmen" or "Henry VIII" in his past or in his future. And while the decline of a brilliant talent is a sad thing, it's the way the world often works. Success breeds success, but it also breeds complacency and intellectual arrogance.

But the saddest thing about David Mamet is that it's also bred intellectual vacuity.

If you doubt me, check out this article in
The Weekly Standard subtitled "A Playwright's Progress."

that Weekly Standard. The Conservative mainstay who's calling the lackluster Republican presidential field "formidable" and continues to champion the Paul Ryan "Kill Medicare" Budget even as every Republican up for reelection flees from a vote on it.

And the "progress" they celebrate is the descent of a once whip-smart social critic and superbly gifted artist into the sort of conservative bobble-head who says things like this:

“...I saw the liberals hated George Bush. It was vicious. And I thought about it, and I didn’t get it. He was no worse than the others, was he? And I’d ask my liberal friends, ‘Well, why do you hate him?’ They’d all say: ‘He lied about WMD.’ Okay. You love Kennedy. Kennedy didn’t write Profiles in Courage—he lied about that. ‘Bush is in bed with the Saudis!’ Okay, Kennedy was in bed with the mafia.”

Or on where he gets his political opinions: '“I drive around and listen to the talk show guys,” he said. 'Beck, Prager, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved."'

Like many
overprivileged Republican white guys, the roots of Mamet's conversion are apparently a strange mix of fuzzily-perceived larger social issues (the 2007 Writer's Strike) and the petty and personal (an ordinance in his privileged Santa Monica neighborhood to keep hedges trimmed low enough so that neighbors could see each other's properties). Somehow this all has been brewed into the sort of potent conservative elixir that turns a man's mind to mush.

When I read this article (and depressing as it is, it's worth the read), I remembered an American Theatre profile of Mamet in the '80s, around the time of "Glengarry Glen Ross." The interviewer's question was something like "why do you just write about white men?" To me Mamet's answer was brilliant. He said that he found the American white male fascinating because he was going insane. He'd gone from this position of unthinking power and prestige into a tailspin because it was all going away, and the more he realized this, the crazier he got.

Poor David Mamet. How ironic that he should age into the same crazy white guy syndrome that as a younger, more talented and thoughtful man, he was so astute at portraying on stage.

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