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New and Forthcoming

David Mamet Society: NEW AND FORTHCOMING


The Newsletter of the David Mamet Society 
Fall 1998 • Volume 5 • ISSN 1095-9629

 

NEW AND FORTHCOMING

 

 

 

In an interview with me conducted several years ago, Joe Mantegna observed of David Mamet, "What is so great about this guy is that he puts it on the line every year, every day. There are some guys who build a career on one thing. David's pumping it out, . . . Here's my play, here's these concepts for TV shows, here's my essays. It's like, you know, whether you like it or not, it's out there." Indeed, this year has proven to be another marked by David Mamet's fertile imagination and impressive accomplishment in a variety of genres. In addition to the completion of two collections of essays, his second novel, and several new screenplays, Mamet has just directed another film for which he wrote the screenplay. The following outlines these and other projects reflecting the broad spectrum of his interests and talents.

Theater: With premieres here and abroad, 1997-1998 is notable for its New York premiere production of The Old Neighborhood, a British premiere of this play at the Royal Court, a first-rate British premiere of Lakeboat, and the world premiere of Jade at the Ensemble Studio's 21st Annual Festival of New One-Acts. The Old Neighborhood, a family play comprised of a trio of one-acts that traces Bobby Gould's literal and figurative journey home (which had its world premiere at the American Repertory Theatre in April 1997), opened in New York under the direction of Scott Zigler at the Booth Theater on November 19. Starring Peter Riegert in the role of the protagonist Bobby and Patti Lupone in the role of Bobby's sister, Jolly, and original cast members Vincent Gustaferro, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Jack Willis, this production enjoyed a long run on Broadway closing in late spring 1998. The British version opened at the Royal Court in late June under the direction of award-winning British playwright Patrick Marber. Featuring Mamet regular Colin Stinton in the role of Bobby, Zo� Wanamaker as his sister Jolly, Vincent Marzello as her husband Carl, Linal Haft as Bobby's childhood friend Joey, and Diana Quick in the challenging role of Deeny (originally performed by Pidgeon at the ART and in New York), the 90-minute production has earned mixed reviews. Aaron Mullen's excellent production of Lakeboat was staged at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith, where it ran from 3-28 February 1998. Starring Jim Dunk, Simon Harris, Jon Welch, and Joe May, play and performances garnered considerable praise. Critic Anne Dean spotted the playwright taking in a performance. These productions are reviewed in this edition, as are recent productions of A Life in the Theatre and Speed-the-Plow.

Directed by Curt Dempster, the Ensemble Theatre's founder, and performed with Mametian precision by James Murtaugh and Chris Cerano, Jade, staged in early June, is a cryptic work in which a Vietnam veteran endeavors to recall horrific details from the war and earlier repressed memories of a traumatic childhood prompted by a second individual, presumably a psychiatrist, whom he ignores or to whom he responds. Mamet's one-minute play, "What Men Talk About When They're Alone," written specifically for the American Repertory Theatre's June gala, an annual fundraising event, was performed by Christopher Walken and Robert Brustein.

The rarely seen "Yes But So What" was performed at Urbis Orbis, Chicago, in late November in a triple-bill entitled, "B Sides (Flipside to Our Favorite Authors)" that also included one-acts by Samuel Beckett and Bruce J. Friedman. Theatre Redux staged nine plays from Goldberg Street in February at the First Parish Church, Cambridge, MA., directed by Paul Dervis, formerly of the Alley Theatre, who has previously staged Prarie du chien and Edmond. In March 1998 Oleanna received a belated and noteworthy revival at the South-Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California. Initially believed to be an abdication of the theater's mission to present the most significant new work in a timely fashion, as staged by Martin Benson with Michael Canavan as John and Lynsey McLeod as Carol, Oleanna largely fulfills Mamet's contention that theater is high art achieved by heroic acting. As such, Canavan, and to a lesser extent McLeod, convinced more than one critic that the play concerns human decency and how it gets corrupted by lies, brutality and desperation. Making the rounds of small repertory companies and university theaters, Oleanna, staged this summer at the Actors' Theatre of Nantucket and at the Exit Theatre in San Francisco, continues to be a draw on college campuses. And Mamet Matters, a double-bill reprising Bobby Gould in Hell and The Frog Prince, ran through August at the Hudson Theatre, Santa Monica. Actors Portia Dawson, Benjamin King, and John Billingsley doubled roles, demonstrating their versatility and the plays' common excursion into fantasy. During the next year, Mamet's plays will be in production, both in English and in translation, throughout Europe and in Japan and Australia. Of particular interest this winter is the Geffen Playhouse's production of The Cryptogram and Old Neighborhood in repertory, providing a rare opportunity to view these memory plays in each other's light.

Mamet directs: Filmed in England, David Mamet directed his adaptation of Terence Rattigan's 1946 play, The Winslow Boy, with Nigel Hawthorne, Jeremy Northam, Gemma Jones, and Rebecca Pidgeon. State of Maine, from an original screenplay, is set to go into production after a delay of more than a year. Mamet has also completed a new screenplay for Al Pacino about poker, currently entitled Four Queens; Ricky Jay, author of Cards as Weapons, and "arbiter of all things picaresque and arcane," as Mamet would have it, will serve as consultant, as he did for The Spanish Prisoner.

Film: Selected to open the prestigious Toronto Film Festival in September 1997, The Spanish Prisoner, was introduced by David Mamet who, according to Hersh Zeifman, generously mingled with the enthusiastic audience. Subsequently, the film made the rounds of numerous film festivals, including Sundance, Cleveland, Miami, Denver, Portland, Edinburgh (Scotland), frequently with the filmmaker on hand for promotion and interviews. Producer Jean Doumanian adopted a novel approach to promoting Spanish Prisoner, inviting sixty Chicago criminal investigators to solve the film's mystery. To that end, the film was stopped six minutes from its finish when professional sleuths were asked to describe how the film ends. Enjoying strong reviews and an extended run in New York, Spanish Prisoner's visual flair earned it the March 1998 cover of American Cinematographer Magazine.

Wag the Dog was nominated for Golden Globe Awards (1997), for Best Motion Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Performance by a Comedic Actor; the screenplay for Wag the Dog, for which Mamet shares credit with Hillary Henkin, was nominated for Best Screenplay by the Writer's Guild of America and for an Academy Award for Best Writing based on Material from Another Medium. Dustin Hoffman was also nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor for his portrayal of a producer in this wickedly funny satire, while director Barry Levinson won the 1998 Silver Berlin Bear Special Jury Prize.

Upcoming films include Lansky, which airs on HBO this fall. Starring Richard Dreyfus and directed by John McNaughton, from a Mamet script, Lansky is an original film based on the life of Meyer Lansky, a young Jewish immigrant who grew up in New York at the turn of the century and turned to a life of crime. Mamet has also written the screenplay for a remake of the 1941 Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde story with Pacino set to play both roles, as Spencer Tracy did. Harold Becker, who directed Pacino in Sea of Love and City Hall, will direct. Ronin, an action thriller directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Robert De Niro opens in October. Initially brought in as a script doctor to expand De Niro's role, Mamet reworked several key scenes of a script by J.D. Zeik, adding a female love interest and surprise ending. Frankenheimer claims the film was shot entirely from Mamet's screenplay. Nonetheless, recalling the debacle of Wag the Dog, the credits will read J.D. Zeik and Richard Weisz, the pseudonym adopted by Mamet in protest to the Writers' Guild.

Publications: A cornucopia of new books by Mamet has been published this year. His second novel, The Old Religion, is a stunning fictionalized account of the 1914 trial and lynching of Leo Frank, wrongfully accused of rape and murder, in which Mamet explores the interior world of an individual haunted by fear and victimized by a legal process that fails to protect those perceived as outsiders in a diverse society. Two new collections on acting and drama, True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor and Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama, present exciting evolutions of Mamet's ideas with his typically lucid prose erudition, and strongly-worded opinions on, respectively, pedagogy and theater. These books are reviewed in this issue. Mamet's adaptation of Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters (literal translation Vlada Chernomordik) appears in Motley Tales, a new collection of Chekhov tales translated by Constance Garnett.

Actively promoting his new books last fall and winter, Mamet was more visible than ever via numerous interviews and public appearances. On Monday November 10, for example, Mamet read excerpts from The Old Religion at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago, to a crowd of 500 people who remained after the reading for the provocative question and answer period which followed. Claiming he had come "as Truman Capote once put it, to flog my new book," the playwright launched into a brief reading and book signing. Noting that "My book is about how to come to grips with a world that has turned against you," he added that "People talk a lot about remembrance. But that is not the point. The seeds of racial hatred are in us all the time . . . " Ever the artful dodger, however, Mamet reticently responded to myriad queries on Old Religion, True and False, and screenwriting or repeatedly refused to answer a question, questioned its validity or baffled the questioner with an elliptical, monosyllabic response.

Viking Press will publish another volume on acting in December 1999 entitled On Acting. Mamet is also working on a third novel. Two final notes: Parade, book by Alfred Uhry and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, is scheduled to open on Broadway in mid-November. Purported to stage the trial and lynching of Leo Frank, the subject which Mamet provocatively explores in Old Religion, it remains to be seen how Uhry envisions this chilling tale as "A True Story. A Love Story. A Musical." On a lighter note, the line of men's wear conceived by David Mamet and hunting partners, Chris Kaldor, (town clerk and treasurer of Cabot, VT seen in Mamet's Things Change and Spanish Prisoner) and Richard Freedman (Boston real estate mogul) is set to appear in Banana Republic stores this fall under the Joseph Morse Company label.

LESLIE KANE
Westfield State College