David Mamet is among America’s most gifted playwrights. His work can, at times, be raw and obscenity-laden, as anyone who has seen his 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning play GlenGarry Glen Ross can attest. That goes for the movie version as well, which features powerful perfomances by Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon. It was close to Jack’s last work on film.
But there is a visceral power and moral undertow to Mamet’s work. GGGR is about the outrageously driven and bitter interactions during two days in the life of some crude small-time Chicago real estate salesmen competing, on the upside, for a Cadillac and, on the downside, trying to cling to their vanishing self-respect while desperately fearful of losing their jobs for failing to meet tough new sales goals set by a brutal new district manager. He’s threatened to fire anyone who doesn’t make their quota . Deceit and moral depravity duel with humiliation and degradation. It’s dark, powerful stuff. It’s hard on your ears but I perceive a sharp, cold eye being cast on greed, materialism and human nature.
Mamet has also made movies with far fewer obscenities but just as much penetrating moral content. House of Games is one I’ve seen. I recommend it.
I’m writing about Mamet because, in a theatre and show business universe jam packed with liberals, he’s steadily evolved in his essays into a critical, fearless, verbally stylish and, dare I say, conservative observer of life’s pageant, including the American theater. Speaking of pageants….
The October 5th issue of the National Review — where Mamet’s commentary now appears regularly — contains his rich and cerebral meditation on the state of American theatre. Who could be more familiar with that subject, or more qualified to write about it?
Here is some of what he has to say:
“The theater has long been turning, and, now, on its (potential) revival, will be found to have turned into an arena for the proclamations of right-thinking. The proclamations, that is, of the reign of the goddess Reason, that is, mob rule. …We have seen, on Broadway, the usual forms of comedy, drama, and tragedy supplanted by the pageant. A pageant is a celebration of human accomplishment, intelligence, grace, or luck — finally of human power over nature or circumstance…… But it is the opposite of drama…..We will not leave the pageannt cleansed, calmed, surprise, lauging, weeping, thoughtful or disturbed….And we will not leave having had the burden of our consciousness, momentarily, laid aside.
“The pagaent has long supplanted the drama on Broadway, for the reasons following. Seventy-five per cent of the Broadway audience are tourists. They come legitimately seeking an experience. They come to Broadway exactly the way they come to Disneyland. As in that happiest place, they do not come to risk their hard-earned cash on a problematic event.
The New York Times, our newspaper of record, and the liberal media, in conjunction with the schools and colleges, insist that nothing shall be said or staged that does not express “right-thinking,” that is, statism.
“Outreach, educaton, diveresity, and so on are tools of indocrination. So, for example, are Marine bootcamp and the bar mitzvah.
“But art is the connection between inspiration and the soul of the observer. This insistence on art as indoctrintation is obscenity, denying and indicating the possibility of human connection to truths superior to human understanding, that is, to God.”
I confess I’m not sure what he means by art as indoctrination simultaneously “denying and indicating” this possibility of human connection. Upon reflection, I believe he’s saying he’s saying the very act of denying that possibility makes one come to realize the need for it. But I celebrate the imperative of art leading us to “truths superior to human understanding.” Somehow I know that those vulgar, grasping Chicago real estate salesmen Mamet created four decades ago had no idea there might be such a truth — or that their quest to earn a Cadillac was unconsciously also their beleaguered quest for the grail of self-knowledge. Oddly enough, Al Pacino’s character, in his quasi-soliloquys, senses there’s something more to his miserable life and to himself — before he dips unreflectively back into the muck.
Well done, David Mamet. I’ve long sensed there was something badly awry in our “serious” entertainment.