At a Glance
David Mamet is perhaps the most influential playwright in contemporary theater. He writes a style of dialogue so unique that it has its own name: “Mamet speak.” His plays are also characterized by quick, often vulgar characters and masculine themes. Mamet's first taste of the theater was as a busboy at The Second City in Chicago. Mamet was a founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company and first gained success in 1976 with three plays: The Duck Variations, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, and American Buffalo. In 1984, Mamet won the Pulitzer Prize for Glengarry Glen Ross. Mamet has also written screenplays, three novels, several nonfiction pieces, and children’s stories.
Facts and Trivia
- Mamet’s themes of machismo and male dominance have often incited controversy and drawn criticism from feminists.
- Mamet was nominated for an Academy Award in 1983 for his screenwriting work on The Verdict and again in 1998 for cowriting Wag the Dog.
- Despite Mamet’s penchant for foul language in his plays, most interviewers describe him as self-controlled and serious without resorting to swearing.
- Mamet was vocal about his dislike for the film Schindler’s List. He felt that it was exploitative.
- Mamet currently blogs at The Huffington Post.
To call David Mamet a “Chicago boy, bred and born” would not be entirely accurate, but he did live the formative years of his childhood and youth in the embrace of that giant Midwestern hub of the free enterprise system—the “hog butcher of America.” Mamet was reared by his mother, who was a teacher, and his father, who was a labor lawyer, in a Jewish neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, and attended grade school and high school in the city. Following his parents’ divorce when he was eleven, Mamet lived with his mother and sister, his high school education then split between a suburban high school and Francis W. Parker School in Chicago.
Various odd jobs taught Mamet how the working world operated and exposed him to the rough and colorful language of the streets. Much has been made of his early experience at Second City (an improvisational comedy group) as a busboy, where he saw the improvisational artists and, more important, learned the language of the stage. As a backstage volunteer in neighborhood playhouses, he furthered his interest in the theatrical world. His father, Bernard, a Chicago lawyer, was an early influence in Mamet’s sensitivity to the musical rhythms of natural language
Although his father had a law degree in mind for Mamet, the young high school graduate preferred the broadening education of Goddard College in Vermont (where he received a B.A. in English in 1969), where the liberal arts were taught in an experimental atmosphere. He intentionally interrupted his graduate education to spend more than a year in New York City, taking acting classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse by day and working at night as house manager for an Off-Broadway musical, the long-running success The Fantasticks (1960). This coincidence, together with his earlier accidental discovery of Second City in Chicago, convinced him that the theater world had something to offer him, and although he was never successful as an actor, he continued in the theater from that time on.
Mamet’s stage writing had begun in college with a musical revue called Camel, but his first serious stage effort was Lakeboat (1970), written on demand for an acting class he was teaching at Marlboro College. When that teaching job was over, Mamet returned to Chicago for a series of nontheater jobs; once again, his sensitivity to the rhythms of business was to stay with him during his playwriting hours. Especially notable was his stint with a real estate development company selling Florida lots from Chicago, an experience that was to be dramatized in Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross (1983). College teaching still appealed to him, however, and he returned to Vermont, this time to his alma mater, Goddard...
(The entire section is 4,165 words.)