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New and Forthcoming

A survey of the upcoming productions and publications of David Mamet.

NEW AND FORTHCOMING

 

Benedict Nightingale characterized the 1993-94 London theater season as “The Year of the Mamet.” In the same vein, this rear may be characterized as the year of the Mamet revival. Although a planned New York premiere of Boston Marriage failed to materialize (despite rumors that Sharon Stone had been approached to play the part brilliantly acted by Felicity Huffman in the world premiere), the 1999-2000 season has seen a veritable plethora of Mamet plays reprised in various venues. Additionally, Mamet’s new film. State and Main, opened at the Montreal Film Festival to strong reviews, The Heist, the latest film by the writer/director has just been wrapped, and his third novel. Wilson, published in London.

THEATER:   One of the most memorable revivals of the 1999-2000 season was American Buffalo staged in December at the American Theater Company in Chicago. Veteran actor and director Mike Nussbaum, who co-directed with the company’s artistic director, Brian Russell, fashioned a fresh, vital, fast-paced production which Richard Christiansen characterized as ‘more devastating than ever’.” Andrew Micheli, who portrayed Bobby as a “beleaguered, innocent punk trapped in a web of betrayal he cannot fathom,” garnered significant praise. John Mohrlein (Donny) struck just the right balance of bluster and goodness while John Sterchi turned in a compelling performance as a forceful, rage-driven Teach. Set design by Scott Cooper created an impression of clutter in the great tradition of American Buffalo scenic designers Kevin Rigdon and Michael Merritt. Interestingly Nussbaum’s production included the more specific language about Donny’s paternal relationship with Bobby that Mamet cut in later productions (reviewed this issue). Also notable this year was a searing and immensely funny production of Glengarry Glen Ross at the McCarter Theater in Princeton. New Jersey. Director Scott Zigler (who most recently directed the New York production of The Old Neighborhood) assembled an outstanding cast. Although the ensemble acting received critics’ kudos, Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Ricky Roma) was singled out for his “slithering command” of the role of top salesman and Charles Durning lauded for his heart-breaking and spell-binding portrayal of Shelly Levene. Atlantic Theater Company member Steve Goldstein (who like Durning appears in State and Main) portrayed Lingk.

By contrast, the much anticipated Mamet retrospective at the Atlantic Theater Company to celebrate its fifteenth anniversary and honor its co-founder was decidedly more uneven and disappointing. The season opener, a double bill of The Water Engine and Mr. Happiness, two plays conceived and performed as radio plays, was directed by Karen Kohlhass, with whom Mamet co-authored Monologue Audition. Recalling The Water Engine’s premiere at the St. Nicholas Theatre starring William H. Macy as Charles Lang under the direction of Steven Schacter. Gregory Mosher remembers it as “truly weird, a brilliant and astounding fable.’ And, as an “American fable about the common man and the institution. as Mamet would have it. Water Engine foreshadows much of the writer’s canon. as The Spanish Prisoner aptly  confirms. Mr. Happiness is a curtain raiser written for the short-lived Broadway production also directed by Schacter in 1978 (but without Macy). In the Atlantic revival, Bob Balaban was mezmerizing as Mr. Happiness, a radio ad­vice columnist: however, performances of The Water Engine were far less impressive. Steve Goldstein reprised the role of Lang while his sister Rita was acted by the talented Mary McCann (last seen in Boston Marriage). Although its World’s Fair banner. “A Century of Progress,” struck an ironic counterpoint to Walt Spangler’s art deco set, this production was no match for the original, New York, or even the TNT film in which Mamet plays a bit role.

Sexual Perversity in Chicago and Duck Variations. were both begun at Goddard, premiered in the ‘70s in Chicago, and were staged at the Cherry Lane Theatre, New York, in 1976. a produc­tion which earned Mamet his first Obie and launched his national career. Although Sexual Perversity’s macho misogyny has engendered much of the criticism frequently directed at the playwright, critics then and now have recognized that it is not only a “compassionate, rueful comedy about how difficult it is, in our fucked up society, for men to give themselves to women, and for women to give themselves to men.” the play is also notably one in which Mamet early in his career juxtaposes the offensiveness of the men’s attitudes with the reasonableness of his women. Under Hilary Hinckle’s direction, Clark Gregg was especially good as Bernie the blowhard, while performances by Josh Hamilton and Kate Blumberg (as the couple that falls in and out of love) and Kristen Reddick (as the disapproving roommate) were adequate. Josh Tierney and, particularly Peter Maloney, were commendable as the two old men in Duck Variations.

Directed by Neil Pepe, the ATC’s artistic director, American Buffalo opened for a limited run at the Donmar Playhouse, London, and reopened in mid-March at the Atlantic featuring William H. Macy in the role of Teach, Philip Baker Hall (Donny). and Mark Webber (Bobby). While it is certainly true that, as Ben Brantley noted in his review, Macy’s “dance of aggression and retreat” encourages our seeing the character in a new light, critics generally found Pepe’s direction temperate and Macy’s performance restrained, especially when compared to that of Robert Duvall (1977), Al Pacino (1981), and Dustin Hoffman (1996). On the night that I attended. performances of all three actors lacked urgency and the production as a whole seemed to lack energy and drama. Buffalo’s extended run resulted in the cancellation of the final production of the season, The Shawl and No One Will Be Immune. The entire Atlantic season and the Donmar production are reviewed in this issue. American Buffalo also received a commendable production staged by the new Secondhand Store Productions at the Thousand Oaks Arts Council Center. Thousand Oaks, California, with strong performances by James Cotton. Frank Gallagher, and M. Deegan as Donny, Teach and Bobby, respectively.

This spring, Speed-the-Plow opened in London at the New Ambassadors Theatre under the direction of Peter Gill (reviewed this issue). Mark Strong (Bobby Gould) turned in a fine performance: Patrick Marber as Fox and Kimberly Williams as Karen were less convincing. In July this production transferred to the Duke of York’s, recast and redirected by Rupert Goold. Nathaniel Parker and Neil Morrissey portrayed producers Bobby Gould and Charlie Fox, whi1e Gina Bellman was the secretary who extols the virtues of an apocalyptic novel, intent on furthering her own future in Hollywood.

While no match for Harold Pinter’s stunning production (see Hersh Zeifman’s review Fall 1994), the London Classics Company staged a noteworthy revival of Oleanna at Gilmorehull G12, Glasgow. Formerly known as Gilmorehills Halls, the site of university examinations, this venue added piquancy to this production featuring Chris Mac Donnell (John) and Amy Bayless (Carol). The deft direction of Michael Cabot, who speeded up the tempo of Mamet’s staccato rhythms — a technique employed by Patrick Marber in his production of The Old Neighborhood (refer to Bob Vorlicky’s review Fall 1998) — proved wonderfully effective. Continuing to make the rounds of small repertory companies, Oleanna received a solid revival directed by John S. Kuhn at the Red Herring Theatre Company, Columbus, Ohio, with Michael Garrett Herring and Janice Muller. And, the Singapore Repertory Theatre staged Oleanna at the venerable Raffles Hotel with bilingual actress Michelle Chong (Carol) and Lim Kay Sin (John). Director Goh Booh Teck designed a compact set that imparted the impression of a library but continually changed, much as power shifts in this play. Singapore was also the unlikely venue for a revival of Edmond performed at the LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts. Directed by controversial playwright Elangovan for the School of Drama, this production was notable for its gender-switching (a practice Mamet abhors) in which male roles were performed by women. An up-tempo soundtrack comprised of New Age and classical music provided acoustic accompaniment.

Other revivals of note included The Shawl, staged in a Milwaukee art gallery by the Found Theatre Company in February, and Sexual Perversity in Glasgow performed by the Dundee Rep in ‘70s garb. In April Mamet’s rarely reprised play The Woods was mounted by the PushPush Theatre in Atlanta. opening to mixed reviews. The PushPush also staged a Mamet Short Play Festival featuring thirty one-acts in a three-night repertory program. In July The Vineyard Playhouse (Martha’s Vineyard) staged an adroit production of A Life in the Theatre under the direction of Jon Lipsky. whose subtle handling of Mamet’s gentlest play garnered praise. Edwin C. Owens as the seasoned actor Robert was deliciously funny and poignantly painful’ while Tim Ryan as the rising star struggling with impatience tempered by com­passion played the role of John to perfection.

Finally, Mamet works were featured in two theater benefits this year. The Second Stage Mainstage, Chicago. was the venue for “Mo’ Mo’ Mamet: An Evening of Satire and Homage to David Mamet,” to raise money for the Atlantic Theater Company; performances were by members of the ATC and Second City National Touring Company. This year Mamet’s contribution to the annual American Repertory Theatre fund-raiser had a touch of Hollywood. The black-tie event for three hundred held in May at the Four Seasons Hotel, Boston. which featured new works by David Mamet. Christopher Durang, and Steve Martin performed by home-town actors Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Affleck’s younger brother Casey sold out in minutes.

Upcoming this season. Mamet’s plays will be seen in production in English and in translation in a variety of venues. Of particular interest is the American Conservatory Theatre’s decision to include Glengarry Glen Ross in its 2000-01 season. The impetus for the production according to ACT artistic director Carey Perloff was that she was intrigued by Glengarry depiction of “sales gone wrong in a culture that believes all sales go right. Les Waters directs Glengarry among the ‘dot.com frenzy’ in San Francisco. 4 January-11 February.

MAMET DIRECTS: Also completed this year is the filmed version of Samuel Beckett’s Catastrophe in which Mamet directs Harold Pinter, Rebecca Pidgeon. and John Guilgud, in his last performance before his death in May 2000. Catastrophe is one of nineteen Beckett plays to be filmed under the aegis of the Beckett Film Project. the brainchild of Michael Colgan, artistic director of Dublin’s Gate Theater. which invited a diverse group of directors, including Bernardo Bertolucci. Neil Jordan. Karel Reisz, Antony Minghella and noted Beckett director Walter Asmus, to participate in this enormous undertaking. The Beckett Film Project has also attracted the talents of Alan Rickman, Kristen Scott Thomas, Juliet Stevenson, Jeremy Irons, John Hurt, and Julianne Moore, among others. Catastrophe will be screened this year in Ireland and Great Britain; PBS wi1l present the entire series next season in its series, “Stage on Screen” (date for Catastrophe not yet announced).

Written and directed by David Mamet, State and Main, Mamet’s Hollywood showbiz satire, shot last fall in Manchester-by-the-Sea and Dedham, Massachusetts, opened at the Montreal Film Festival in late August putting to rest any question of whether Mamet can write scabrous comedy. The film-within-a-film is set in motion when an acting company invades the picturesque town of Burlington, Vermont. Starring William H. Macy as the director (Mephistopheles with cell phone), Philip Seymour Hoffman as the screenwriter whose soul is the film’s moral battleground, Alec Baldwin (who also co-produces) as an actor who seeks out underage girls with the destructive intent of a heat-seeking missile.” and Sarah Jessica Parker as an actress who will only bare her breasts if she’s paid $800,000, State and Main throbs with comic inventiveness. The superb ensemble cast includes such Mamet regulars as Jonathan Katz, Patti Lupone, Rebecca Pidgeon, Lonnie Smith and Jim Frangione, as well as the talented Charles Durning and Clark Gregg seen this season in Mamet stage productions. Gemma Jones, production designer for The Winslow Boy, reprises that role here, and Elizabeth Dahlie, the illustrator of Mamet’s children’s tale Henrietta, was invited to do the title sequence. The director and numerous members of the cast (Baldwin, Macy, Hoffman, Parker) attended the screening of State and Main at the 25th annual Toronto Film Festival (7-16 September); the film was also screened at the Deauville Film Festival of American Cinema held in early September. General release is scheduled for 22 December.

After The Winslow Boy and State and Main, Mamet is returning to the crime genre for which he is best known. Filming of The Heist, written and directed by Mamet, began in Montreal in August. Cast in the movie, in which a gang of thieves plan one more big heist, are Gene Hackman in the role of rival to the leader of the gang, Danny DeVito, Sam Rockwell. and Rebecca Pidgeon. Release is expected in spring 2001.

FILMSCRIPTS:  Mamet’s adaptation of his early play Lakeboat. directed by first-time director Joe Mantegna, had its premiere in April at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, which spotlights films by new North American directors. With an original score by Bob Mamet. the coming-of-age tale. with Mamet’s brother Tony Mamet in the role of Dale. was filmed on Lake Ontario. Charles Durning, Peter Falk, and Robert Forrester, members of the freighter’s crew, are richly complemented by J. J. Johnston. Jack Wallace, and George Wendt, longtime Mamet collaborators and members of the ensemble cast (with Mantegna) of the memorable 1994 Tiffany Theatre production. Changes to the film version suggested by Mantegna include sequences in which the crew members’ tall tales are recounted as fantasy flashbacks. Plans for general distribution are not vet confirmed.

PUBLICATIONS:  Wilson: A Consideration of the Sources. Mamet’s third novel, published this rear in London, is a literary tour de force which his agent characterized as unpublishible, his wife as impenetrable, and his British editor as “a modern-day Tristram Shandy.” While more than a few British reviewers admitted that the novel flew far above their heads and others dismissed it as a pretentious prank, the sharp-witted Wilson surely reflects Mamet’s penchant for game-playing. Set on Mars some time in the future after the destruction of knowledge caused by the Internet crash or conflagration, Wilson’s notes, errata, and footnotes to footnotes, rich in Mametian puns and jokes, will no doubt resonate with academics. In February Mamet, who was in London to promote his novel, joined Howard Jacobson to discuss his work; his appearance included a reading from Wilson (reviewed this issue) and Jafsie and John Henry.

Also this year. Henrietta, which appears to be a children’s tale about defeating the odds, galvanized a good deal of speculation and conversation, especially in Cambridge. Massachusetts, and among Harvard Law School students. In an apparent jab at Harvard’s legacy of elitism and discrimination against minorities, Henrietta, inspired by the deceased pet pig of friend (and Boston developer and presidential host) Dick Friedman, recounts the story of a self-educated, persistent pig named Henrietta who, lacking credentials and undergraduate degree, is initially rejected from an esteemed law school. She ultimately gains acceptance when the president, who has misplaced his glasses and fails to realize her true identity, is so impressed by her knowledge of Shakespeare and Fielding that he invites her to attend the school. The rest is history—or fantasy—in this Kafkaesque parable wherein Henrietta proves herself beyond anyone’s expectations as valedictorian, earns appointment to the Supreme Court, and extols the virtues of social justice (reviewed this issue).

Other Mamet publications this year include The Audition Monologue: A Practical Guide for Actors, co-written with Karen Kohlhass (ATC); Boston Marriage (Vintage). and the preface to the catalogue for a special sky-lit exhibition of twenty-two paintings by Donald Sultan at the Corcoran Gallery. Washington, D.C., on view from May until July. And. Mamet’s cartoons are scheduled to appear in Boston Magazine.

Finally, Mamet is developing with television veterans Tom Fortuna and Rod Holcomb a television series entitled “Bradford,” in which Rob Morrow will portray a world-weary police officer who returns to his home town. The twelve-episode series is expected to be put on a fast-track for a mid 2001 season debut.

LESLIE KANE

WESTFIELD STATE COLLEGE