That's the question I couldn't help but ask myself upon reading this excerpt from his latest book in the Guardian. David Mamet was once a good playwright, an okay screenwriter and a mediocre director, but he's always been a fairly shoddy essayist, and as his skills in all of the above categories of writing have declined, so too has his essay writing to the point where he just kind of embarrasses himself.
Case in point are these excerpts, where Mamet laments in the first excerpt that theatre (which he oddly equates with Broadway) is no longer made with his specific demographic (Middle Class Jews) in mind, and then in the second excerpt laments the rise of identity politics in theatre. It's good to know that Mamet subscribes to the Bender Theory of Discrimination.
The second excerpt is particularly embarrassing, as Mamet straw-mans with abandon:
The theatre has become vastly political in my lifetime. Where once we had "weepers" (matinee structures featuring women abandoned, impregnated, deserted by their children or spouse, in a survival of the Victorian sensation novel), in the 1960s we began to see this love of melodrama recast as politics, giving the weeping audience not only the pleasure of a good cry, but also a pat on the back for knowing that group X were people, too. All right. The villain always has a waxed mustache, or can be counted on to stand for social positions that have vanished from our country everywhere but on the stage.
"You must pay the rent."
"I can't pay the rent."
"You weak and unacceptable woman, homosexual, African American, go away, I do not want you."
"But, does no one see that we are people, too . . . ?"
It is easy to write this play, as the course of events is known, and one may simply paint in the spaces, according to the predrawn, paint-by-numbers pattern. But the light is not good in the alley. And the alley is the dark, hidden, forbidden human. A trip down into that alley, for the writer or actor, may be disturbing, revolting, frightening – for that is where the monster of our self lives, and there we may find not only the falsity of our constructed personality, but also the truth of our feverishly suppressed perceptions.
This has the benefit of feeling true without actually being true in the slightest. Yes, it is generally better when plays take the trip that Mamet describes above. At the same time, I can't think of a single play produced in an Off- or Broadway house in the last five years that actually fits the description of identity politics driven political thatre that Mamet is talking about. And neither can he, or else he'd name a few. I can think of maybe one or two performed in a basement somewhere written by a twenty three year old is beside the point, keep in mind these essays are both about mainstream American theatre with an emphasis on Broadway. I can also think of plays that were more journalistic in nature, and thus probed more deeply the external rather than internal realities of their subjects, but that's not what Mamet is talking about here.