David Mamet Mamet, David (Vol. 15)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Mamet, David 1948–

Mamet is an American playwright. His plays reflect a wry sense of humor and their dramatic language, often obscene, reveals the loneliness and fear he finds in our culture. (See also CLC, Vol. 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84.)

Edith Oliver

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

David Mamet's funny, haunting "A Life in the Theatre" … is entirely a matter of conversations between two actors—a young one, John …, and an older one, Robert…. They meet when they are rehearsing together for a show, and over the course of the evening we follow the growth of their friendship…. [Collaterally, we follow their careers through] fingernail parodies of various hack scenes from every conceivable kind of hack play the two actors have appeared in…. Mr. Mamet has exposed the character of Robert—a sympathetic exposure, to be sure—and under all the pomposities and nonsense we see the nervous, touchy, tentative, and very lonely older man who must rely on the conventions and the lore of "the boards" to give him some inner dignity and confidence. (pp. 115-16)

Mr. Mamet has written—in gentle ridicule; in jokes, broad and tiny; and in comedy, high and low—a love letter to the theatre. It is quite a feat, and he has pulled it off. (p. 116)

Edith Oliver, "Actor Variations," in The New Yorker (© 1977 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LIII, No. 37, October 31, 1977, pp. 115-16.∗

Harold Clurman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I disliked [A Life in the Theatre]. But I soon realized that my annoyance was not induced by the fact that it was a trifle (talented artists are permitted their piffle) but by the gush with which it has been received by most of the press—celebrated as if it were the best of Mamet.

It is composed of glimpses of two actors, preparing back-stage for performances and, on stage, acting bits from plays they appear in at various times. The "life in the theatre" consists of the display of such gags as an actor "going up" on (forgetting) his lines or trying to hide the accident of a missing zipper. We also hear the older actor talking inspired nonsense (except when his momentary embarrassment makes him honestly profane), while the younger one is either duly respectful or justifiably exasperated by the arty homilies. (p. 504)

What we see is not a life in the theatre (not even a reasonable caricature of it) but a cliché that exists for the most part in the minds of those "out front" who know the theatre chiefly through anecdotal hearsay. "Ephemera, ephemera," the veteran actor murmurs wistfully. Ephemera indeed. Very little of this has anything to do with the pain, the pleasure, the glamour, the fun or follies of theatrical life. It is all an inside joke of which the real absurdity is the sophomoric response it has produced. But that is not Mamet's fault. I look forward eagerly to his future work…. (pp. 504-05)

Harold Clurman, "Theatre: 'A Life in the Theatre'," in The Nation (copyright 1977 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 225, No. 16, November 12, 1977, pp. 504-06.∗

Edith Oliver

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

David Mamet's disappointing comedy "The Water Engine" … is a sendup of radio drama in the thirties and at the same time an attempt to recapture the spirit and mood of the period…. Mr. Mamet has supplied any number of shrewd atmospheric touches to the broadcast: a sound-effects man works busily in a booth upstage left, the actors casually double and triple their roles, and there are commercial breaks and organ "stings." And the broadcast episode itself is carefully set in its time and place….

Yet Mr. Mamet's play is a synthetic that doesn't work. Its ponderous irony … and its foolishness are poor substitutes for his usual original humor or his usual subtle tension. Or, indeed, for authenticity. These radio actors pantomime stage business and play to one another; real radio actors play only to the microphone, and they rarely raise their eyes from the script or change their expressions (I speak as a veteran of radio)—it is all done with voices. (p. 69)

Edith Oliver, "Watered Down," in The New Yorker (© 1978 by The New Yorker...

(The entire section is 4,046 words.)