For decades, it seems, it was fashionable for a playwright to admire the word of David Mamet with great abandon. Everyone wanted to write like him. Actors wanted to do his plays. Producers wanted to put them on. Directors wanted to direct them. And lots of people — even people who didn’t like going to the theater all that much — wanted to buy tickets to go see them.
Some time ago, however, he fell out of fashion. Far out of fashion. He has become the theatrical equivalent of spats or an ulster: nobody wears him any more. (EDIT: And by “nobody,” I mean “the general run of non-Broadway theater practitioners.” Yes, he still gets produced on Broadway, and yes, his older plays get plenty of air time, but he ain’t half of what he used to be.)
It’s not because his most recent plays lack the boldness and importance and energy and vision of his earlier work, though I believe they do. (EDIT: Maybe it is more that than I originally posited.) It’s not that he’s “sold out” to Hollywood, though he has been quite successful there. It’s that he’s decided he isn’t a liberal any more, and that in announcing his political transformation he was rather mean about it.
People didn’t like that. I don’t like it. And I happen to believe that his political opinions are largely, if not entirely, ludicrous and adolescent.
I have to admit, however, that none of this has stopped me from finding much of value in his latest (though no longer recent) book of essays: Theatre. Yes, there were definitely moments, plenty of them, in which I said to myself, as I was reading, “This particular point he’s making is as unsupportable as his politics, and indeed seems to be inspired by them.” There were also, however, many moments — more moments — in which I thought to myself “Yes, he’s got it exactly right there, and I wish people understood.”
There are those who want to believe the world is black-and-white — those of us who, having decided to hate David Mamet because of his politics, will now decide to hate everything else he produces. You know what I think about that? I think it’s short-sighted.
May I suggest that, if you’re not one of those people, that you give the book a chance? That you read it, think about it, and discuss it with me, here in the comments? Because I really do think there are things to be learned here… even, perhaps, from the ideas we disagree with. Anyway, that’s my suggestion.