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Fractured familes: Mamet Panel at the ATHE Convention

At the ATHE, the panel was chaired by Jerry Dickey of the University of Arizona. All three of the panelists' papers emphasized the ways that Mamet's works reconfigure and encourage reconsideration of traditional notions of "family" and "family drama."

Fractured Families: Mamet Panel at the ATHE Convention

At the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) conference at the Palmer House in Chicago this summer (July 27-30), a panel sponsored by the American Theatre and Drama Society and other organizations affiliated with ATHE focused on revisions of "family" in Mamet's plays. The panel, entitled "Fractured Families in David Mamet's 'American Wasteland,"' was chaired by Jerry Dickey of the University of Arizona. All three of the panelists' papers emphasized the ways that Mamet's works reconfigure and encourage reconsideration of traditional notions of "family" and "family drama."

In "...and don't call your wife 'baby': Correctness and (Con)sanguinity in David Mamet's Oleanna," Timothy D. Connors (a member of the Communications Dept. at Central Michigan University) discussed the ambiguous nature of (quasi)familial relationships in Oleanna as seen particularly through the offstage presences of John (the professor)'s wife and Carol (the student)'s "group" of supporters—as well as through the eyes of audience members, who have expressed notoriously mixed reactions to the play's interactive politics.

Steven G. Berglund (also of the Communications Dept. at Central Michigan) described, in "Fathers, Sons, and Brothers: Redefining 'Family' in David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross," the conflicts between the offstage families of Glengarry (such as the neurotic Nyborgs to whom Levene thinks he has made a sale, or Levene's own daughter) and the surrogate family of the real estate agents—among whom, as is especially evident in the relationship between Levene and Ricky Roma, the salesmen play alternately the roles of children and parents.

N.J. Stanley, now of Agnes Scott College but formerly of Central Michigan Univ., spoke about a production of American Buffalo she directed that had featured Connor and Berglund, the other two panelists, as Don and Teach In her presentation, entitled "Mamet Mouthing Off: The Wasteland of American Buffalo," Stanley showed slides a the production and at appropriate points, Connors and Berglund reenacted their roles as we saw pictures of them in character and on the set of the play. Stanley's emphasis on the Don/Teach/Bobby triangle, with Don as a surrogate father for Bobby and Teach as the jealous (br)other who tries to compete for attention, included the rather controversial production choice of ending with an embrace between Don and Bobby to underscore the reaffirmation of their relationship, rather than opting for what Stanley saw as a typically nihilistic approach to the work.

The panel was well-attended and there was a lively discussion afterwards that included comments from audience members who had seen various productions Oleanna and other Mamet works.