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New and Forthcoming

The Newsletter of the David Mamet Society 
Fall 1999 • Volume 6 • ISSN 1095-9629






Nineteen ninety-nine has proven to be another year marked by David Mamet’s risk-taking and achievement on a number of fronts. In addition to the world premiere of Boston Marriage, a marvelous new play written and directed by Mamet, his acclaimed adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy, and the publication of three books, the writer has just directed another film for which he wrote the screenplay.

Theater: The world premiere of Boston Marriage, a ground-breaking work set early in the twentieth century and featuring an all-female cast, opened June 4, 1999, at the Hasty Pudding Theatre, a production of the American Repertory Theatre Company. Directed by the playwright, the wickedly funny drawing-room comedy had its audience laughing out loud. Boston Marriage (reviewed in this issue) portrays a same-sex marriage between two women played by Felicity Huffman and Rebecca Pidgeon. Inspired by his adaptation of J. B. Priestley’s Dangerous Corner, which Mamet directed at the Atlantic Theater Company in 1995 (with Huffman, Pidgeon, and supporting actor Mary McCann, a long-time member of the ATC who portrayed Deeny in the Broadway production of Old Neighborhood and Carol in Oleanna), the playwright initially wrote a number of hilarious sketches for the three actors which evolved into his first comedy. Flamboyantly exhibiting his command of Wildean artifice, the repartée among Mamet’s women is by turns elegantly sardonic, frequently floral, and explicitly vulgar. Complementing their typically erudite speech, the maid, played by McCann, serves as a sort of Greek chorus, interrupting their high-minded chatter with simple, but profound truths.

The impeccably comic performances of Huffman and Pidgeon were exquisitely balanced, but Huffman’s was a revelation, even for those of us fortunate to see her as Donny in The Cryptogram. Exhibiting grace that belied her character’s dispassionate, calculating intent, Huffman’s portrayal was nothing short of brilliant. A New York run is planned but will most likely coordinate with Huffman’s shooting schedule for Sports Night, her successful television series.

The Atlantic Theater Company is dedicating its fifteenth season (1999-2000) to productions of Mamet’s works. The following is a tentative schedule: The Water Engine and Mr. Happiness, directed by Karen Kohlhaas, opens September 29; Sexual Perversity and Duck Variations, directed by Hilary Hinckle, opens on December 15; American Buffalo, directed by the Atlantic’s Artistic Director Neil Pepe and starring William H. Macy as Teach, opens on March 3 after a run at the Donmar Playhouse, London; and "Ghost Story," comprised of The Shawl and No One Will Be Immune, premieres on May 17. For further information and tickets, contact the ATC, which is offering $15 tickets to commemorate its 15th anniversary. Also this season Scott Zigler directs Glengarry Glen Ross at the McCarter Playhouse; the production runs for a month starting February 15.

In January 1999 Michael Bloom staged The Cryptogram and The Old Neighborhood in repertory (reviewed in this issue) at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, a groundbreaking approach to these wrenching works which resonate with one another and imply the arc of John’s life. EdBegley, Jr. reprised his American premiere Broadway role as Del in The Cryptogram and was equally convincing as Carl in Old Neighborhood. Christine Dunford, likewise, portrayed the betrayed wife Donny in Cryptogram and Deeny in the play of the same name. Others in the cast were Robin Bartlett, who turned in an impressive performance as Jolly, Dennis Boutsikaris as Bobby, and David Warshofsky as pal Joey.

The Old Neighborhood, directed by Mike Nussbaum, a veteran of many Mamet plays and films, received a fine production at the Northlight Theatre, Skokie, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Starring David Pasquesi as Bobby, the cast included Matt Caro, Linda Kimbrough and Kelly Hazen, who garnered praise for her portrayal of Deeny as a brittle, surprisingly tormented woman. Nussbaum’s production was notable for its "almost warm, chicken soup quality" and for an engaging program note written by Nussbaum about the playwright’s work. In December, Nussbaum directs American Buffalo at the American Theater Company, Chicago.

Other Mamet plays staged in 1998-99 included a powerful Glengarry Glen Ross from the ACME Theater Project, St. Louis, and a wickedy funny and nasty Edmond at the Source Theatre, Washington, D.C. Director Joe Banno staged Edmond in the round, effectively dooming the antihero to run in tighter and tighter circles. Starring Rick Foucheux as Edmond, the highly successful production profits from fine performances by six talented actors, including Colleen Delaney, Tom Quinn, and Ken Yatta, who portray the pimps, whores, pawnbrokers, preachers, and criminals Edmond encounters. The dystopian world of the play, marvelously captured by Tony Cisek’s set of battered metal and broken glass and Brian Keating’s sound design, created an urban nightmare, at once erotic and mezmerizingly repellent. Glengarry Glen Ross, directed by Michael Menendian, was also staged in Chicago at the Raven Theatre by a small Rogers Park ensemble from mid-February until early April, and the Northwest Actors Studio, Seattle, staged A Life in the Theatre. On a lighter note, The Frog Prince (reviewed in this issue), Mamet’s funny, bittersweet children’s play, delighted audiences at the 78th Street Lab in New York where it ran from late June until August 1. Less successful were productions of Speed-the- Plow at the Boston Center for the Arts, directed by Daniel Elihu Kramer, which lacked the essential ambivalence and precision duelists of several previous productions; and Lakeboat, as performed by the Northwest Actors Studio, Seattle, elicited negative comparisons to the 1994 Los Angeles production starring George Wendt and Joe Mantegna.

David Mamet, Ed Bullins, Israel Horovitz, and Robert Brustein were among forty Boston-based playwrights who contributed new 10-minute plays to an extraordinary "first annual" Boston Theater Marathon. The showcase, held from noon until 10:00 P.M. on the Sunday before the Boston Marathon at the Boston Playwrights’ Theater (whose artistic director is the Nobel laureate Derek Walcott), featured Mamet’s "Dodge."

Another attempt by a theater company to switch the gender of characters in a Mamet play resulted in an order to cease and desist. Mamet first granted and then refused permission to the all-women QuintEssential Theater Company to stage seven short plays from Goldberg Street at the Limelight Theater, New York, under the title of Mamet Bare. In a decision that attracted significant media attention, Mamet withdrew permission because of the production’s intent to portray all characters as women.

Mamet directs: Mamet’s deservedly praised film, The Winslow Boy (reviewed in this issue), eloquently acted by Nigel Hawthorne (in terrific form as Arthur Winslow), Jeremy Northam, Gemma Jones, Colin Stinton, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Guy Edwards as the thirteen-year-old Ronnie Winslow accused of a crime, was selected to open the 42nd annual San Francisco International Film Festival and was screened, as well, in Cannes. Shot in England, Mamet’s faithful adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s 1946 play explores such timely issues as public morality, the value of family ties, the media madness surrounding high-profile controversies, and what, in the writer’s view, are the Winslow Boy ’s Edwardian virtues of "gentility, honor, and accountability." Ostensibly the film, Mamet’s sixth as director, is about whether an offscreen crime really took place. Typically, however, Mamet uses crime as a surface distraction from his real subject–the high cost of fighting for justice; the economic, social, and physical toll on family members, which Ronnie Winslow’s alleged crime unleashes, craftily reflects that cost. Exquisite costumes by Consolata Boyle, production design by Gemma Jackson, and cinematography by Benoit Delhomme capture a cold, gray post -World War I London milieu, analogous to its moral climate, while the claustrophobic, cramped interior shots emphasize the constraints of the Winslows’ world and their passionate fight for right.

State and Main, from an original screenplay, began filming in late September in Manchester-by-the Sea and Dedham, Massachusetts, with Mamet directing his seventh film and first comedic screenplay. State and Main depicts the events in a quaint New England town as a Hollywood movie crew shoots a movie. The ensemble cast features a number of actors who have previously worked with the writer/director, among them Alec Baldwin (The Edge), Patti Lupone (Jolly in the Broadway production of The Old Neighborhood), Rebecca Pidgeon (Oleanna, The Winslow Boy and Boston Marriage), and long-time collaborator, William H. Macy. Also in the cast are Charles Durning and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Mamet also directed a revival of Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants at the Old Vic, London (reviewed in Steven Price’s U.K. summary). In sold-out performances from June 24-July 21, Jay dazzled audiences with his card trick lecture and demonstration. The production, directed by Mamet, previously enjoyed a hugely successful run in New York in 1994 and was filmed for HBO in 1995.

Filmscripts: Lansky, an original Mamet screenplay 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, aired on HBO in late February. Whereas earlier movies on the lives and crimes of "Bugsy" Siegel, "Dutch" Shultz, Arnold Rothstein, and Meyer Lansky dealt with the Jewishness of the protagonists in passing, in Mamet’s film Jewishness is the central motif. The film’s opening scenes show the 70-year-old Lansky among the tombstones of Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives and, in flashback, the seven-year-old Meyer Suchowljansky witnessing a pious Jew butchered by Polish peasants in his native town of Grodno. Directed by John McNaughton and starring Richard Dreyfus as the gangster/ wandering Jew, Eric Roberts, Anthony LaPaglia, and Ilena Douglas, Lansky was first seen in a private screening at Harvard Square’s Loew’s Theater on February 19, 1999, prior to its television airing on February 27. HBO and Harvard’s Institute of Politics where Fred Zollo, the film’s producer, was a fellow in 1998, jointly hosted the event.

Mamet has been tapped by producer Martin Scorsese to revamp and direct a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s film High and Low, which portrays a businessman who loses his fortune after agreeing to pay kidnappers who mistakenly capture his chauffeur’s son rather than the businessman’s son. Mamet’s screenplay will return to Ed McBain’s source novel, The King’s Ransom, in a project that will reunite him with Steve Martin, who starred in The Spanish Prisoner, and Mamet regulars William H. Macy and Joe Mantegna. The writer has also been approached by director Ridley Scott to write Hannibal, the sequel to Silence of the Lambs, after Ted Tally, the original screenwriter and Jonathan Demme, who directed Silence, passed on the project. Mamet, too, has passed on the project due to scheduling conflicts. And Mamet will bring his love of poker to a rewrite of The Cincinnati Kid, set to star Al Pacino. The project is based on the 1965 Steve McQueen picture about professional poker players who meet in New Orleans for a high stakes game.

In addition, Joe Mantegna has just completed shooting Lakeboat, starring Tony Mamet, the playwright’s younger brother, in the role of Dale. The cast also includes Robert Forrester, Peter Falk, Charles Durning, George Wendt (who played, along with Mantegna, in the acclaimed 1994 Los Angeles production), Denis Leary, Jack Wallace, and J.J. Johnston. Director Mantegna has begun editing the film, expected to open next fall.

Certainly more offbeat is Frogs For Snakes, a bizarre low-budget movie featuring Barbara Hershey, John Leguizamo, and Robbie Coltrane, that deals with wannabee New York actors who double as part-time gangsters. Mamet seems to hover over this strange and sometimes awful film in the playful satirizing of his terse, clipped language and in a subplot in which an actor named Al (Coltrane) moonlights as a theatrical impresario staging a production of American Buffalo. The film’s running joke is that these small-time hoods would kill for the role of Teach–and apparently do–as competitors for Teach’s part die right and left.

Publications: Three new books by Mamet–Jafsie and John Henry: Essays, The Chinaman: Poems, and Bar Mitzvah–have been published this year. The essays that comprise Jafsie and John Henry, a collection of twenty-seven pieces of varying length, many previously published in Esquire, Playboy, and other men’s journals, fall into distinct groups: nostalgic pieces about his Chicago boyhood and young manhood in New York and Vermont; satiric jabs at Hollywood; pronouncements on modern life; and essays on the joy of the outdoor life. Instead of strongly-worded opinions on pedagogy and theater, the book is notable for its precise, beautiful, self-deprecating essays, such as "Last Season Hunt," many of which sensitively reflect upon remembrances of things past. Ten years after the publication of Hero Pony, Mamet has completed a second book of poetry entitled The Chinaman, whose poems not only reflect his knowledge of the craft but are frequently stunning. Both books are reviewed in this issue.

Bar Mitzvah, a novella in the same vein as Passover, depicts a troubled young boy, reminiscent of John in The Cryptogram, who seeks the advice of older, admired individuals, in this case a rabbi and Talmud Reader. Directing the young boy to the Torah "where help may be found," the Talmud Reader engages him in a discussion of such subjects as morality, goodness, and lessons learned from the past. "There are no bad thoughts," he assures the youth, encouraging him to "find strength in the notion that it [his thought] has a purpose," though it may be hidden from him. The book is illustrated by artist and longtime Mamet friend Donald Sultan, who previously created the poster for Gregory Mosher’s production of Edmond, which the playwright considers "one of the best theatrical posters." An excerpt from Bar Mitzvah is available online at the website for Tattoo Jew. In December Viking Press will publish Mamet’s On Acting; he is also working on a third novel.

Additionally, Mamet contributed an essay to Here Lies My Heart, a collection of twenty-one highly personal pieces by contemporary writers, among them Barbara Ehrenreich, Willie Morris, Vivian Gornick, and Gerald Early, offering terrifically wry, insightful observations on marriage and domestic life.

Three final notes. David Mamet, Mike Wallace, Neil Rudenstein (president of Harvard), and John Silber were among the luminaries who appeared in US District Court in Boston in late January on behalf of Kaveh Afrasiabi; an academic and writer, Afrasiabi was suing two former members of the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies and a Harvard police officer after charges of extortion and threatening the Harvard researcher were dropped due to lack of evidence. In early April Mamet, who has repeatedly deflected comparisons between his work and Ernest Hemingway’s, was invited, along with a starry array of four Nobel laureates and seven Pulitzer Prize winners–among them Nadine Gordimer, Saul Bellow, Derek Walcott, Chinua Achebe, E. Annie Proux, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.–to participate in a two-day conference to mark Hemingway’s centennial at the Kennedy Library, Boston, the repository of Hemingway’s papers. As a prelude to the conference, Mamet introduced a Hemingway double-feature, To Have and Have Not and the 1946 version of The Killers, at the Brattle Theatre, Cambridge.

And, David Mamet and Rebecca Pidgeon are the proud parents of a son, Noah, born to the couple in January.

Westfield State College