The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Scene 1 of the conversational The Woods opens at dusk with the play’s two characters, Ruth and Nick, seated on the porch of Nick’s summer cottage in the woods, where the two lovers have come for a weekend getaway. Ruth, animated by the atmosphere and encouraged by Nick’s “Tell me,” comments on the environment’s natural denizens: seagulls, herons, and crickets. She talks about the ozone layer, pirates, and bears, noting, “We don’t have to be afraid. Because we have each other.”

The less talkative Nick, who is not afraid, is nevertheless angered by her “understanding.” He barely listens to what has become nonstop commentary, soliloquies punctuated with clichélike truisms such as “nothing lasts forever” and “things change.” He wants her affection more than her conversation. At her persistence, he relates for her his father’s story of accidentally falling into a hole “during the War” and ironically finding the man he had been sent to search for. Suddenly, Ruth stops listening. She wants Nick to take her inside the cottage and make love to her, adding that she bought him a present. Nick agreeably promises to finish his story as the two go inside.

At the beginning of scene 2, night has fallen, and Ruth, who has had trouble sleeping, is sitting on the porch. Nick joins her, verbalizing that he is upset because his watch has stopped and he does not know the time. He is also worried about the oncoming rain...

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The Woods Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Within the device of Nick and Ruth’s storytelling, Mamet uses repetitive dialogue, as he does in all of his plays, to underline and dramatize a search for meaning. When Ruth looks up to the great firmament, her usual sureness crumbles. She is unable to find an answer in the configuration of the heavens, unable to give meaning to a new story or find similarity in an old one. Her repetition underlines her confusion, rather than adding clarity:Ruth: The lightning doesn’t look like anything. Do you know what I mean? Nick: No. Ruth: The lightning doesn’t “look” like anything. Do you know what I mean? Nick: No

The impact of this inability to communicate is heightened by the nonproductive repetitiveness.

The play runs the risk of being produced as a static “play of ideas.” Mamet, ironically, introduces physical violence at the very moment his characters admit they care, dramatically emphasizing the characters’ fear of loving and being loved. The playwright presents the “rape” scene in full view of the audience. Although Ruth says no, Nick forces her, not even allowing her to go inside to get lubrication or birth-control protection (“some stuff”). Nick, therefore, becomes an unsympathetic character who uses brute strength to get what he wants. The audience sees Ruth treated as an object, and empathy for his lonely plight is lost.

Mamet further brings out their animalistic qualities by having Ruth repeat the shrill and caustic sound of the migratory birds. “Caw, caw, caw. And Winter comes and they go somewhere else.” Mamet enhances the whys and wherefores of this deteriorating relationship with the imagery of decay: the rotting boat, the musty raincoat, the dampness, and the chill that will not go away. No panacea—neither mercurochrome nor aspirin—can relieve the pain already caused. A special poignancy in this modern-day winter’s tale is achieved when Ruth realizes that Nick wanted the very same things from Ruth that she desperately wanted to give to him.

The Woods Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Bigsby, C. W. E. David Mamet. New York: Methuen, 1985.

Bigsby, C. W. E. Introduction to Beyond Broadway. Vol. 3 in A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Carroll, Dennis. David Mamet. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.

Christiansen, Richard, “David Mamet.” Contemporary Dramatists. 6th ed. Detroit: St. James, 1999.

Dean, Anne. David Mamet: Language as Dramatic Action. Teaneck, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990.

Friedman, Samuel G. “The Gritty Eloquence of David Mamet.” New York Times Magazine, April 21, 1985, 32-38.

Kane, Leslie, ed. David Mamet: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1991.

Lahr, John. “David Mamet.” In Show and Tell: New Yorker Profiles. Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press, 2000.