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Two Hussies: Town Hall Meeting

During their recent tete a tete at New York's Town Hall, in the company of several hundred admirers David Mamet discussed magic with Ricky Jay.

Palatino-Bold, 'Palatino'; font-size: 18.00pt; font-weight: bold; line-height: 1.33; ">REVIEW OF TOWN HALL MEETING Palatino-Bold, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-weight: bold; line-height: 1.27; ">

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">Two Hussies. No Waiting.

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">Town Hall, New York. 4 October 2001.

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Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">During their recent tête à tête at New York’s Town Hall—in the company of several hundred admirers—David Mamet prompted Ricky Jay to tell the audience why magicians should never gamble at cards. The reason, said Jay, is that if the magician loses, he’ll be seen as a bad magician. If he wins, though, others will think he’s a cheat.

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">It’s an object lesson that Mamet should take to heart. Nearly three decades after the Chicago writer emerged as a wizard of four-letter lingo in his streetwise dramatic works, Mamet stepped from behind his magic curtain on October 4 to reveal a fifty-something adolescent who refuses to do his homework.

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">Billed as Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.27; ">Two Hussies, No Waiting Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">, the evening was clearly defined by its advertisements and press releases. The two men—one known for verbal sleight-of-hand, the other for physical—promised to “shamelessly flog” their latest books. Flog they did, although Mamet seemed appropriately abashed by his own lack of preparation as he fumbled with his notes and text. An oft-repeated line of the evening, ‘What shall we do now?” led some audience members to wonder at the audacity of the presenters. When Mamet asked, about an hour into the conversation, “Are you all bored, would you like to go home now?” a nearby Mamet fan murmured, “Yes.”

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">Mamet’s latest book, Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.27; ">Wilson: A Consideration of the Sources Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">, is “a book of false scholarship” set in the year 3000 after the cola wars (“are Coke and Pepsi really the same product?”). The Internet has crashed, all knowledge has been lost, and “the past is being reassembled from the downloaded memories of Ginger, wife of ex-President Wilson.”

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">The publisher of Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.27; ">Wilson Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">, Overlook Press, claims that ‘in Mamet’s world nothing is certain except the certainty of academics.” Perhaps that is so, but it’s also clear from the brief reading at Town Hall that Mamet’s world is filled with references to hookers, fine sherry, fast boats, meditations on capital punishment and the moment of death, and repeated use of a word for female genitalia employed by “tough guys” to shock bourgeois sensibility.

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">    Conversely, Ricky Jay’s tales are more interesting and wide ranging, causing us to contemplate the connections between the tricks that hands perform and minds play. His new book, Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.27; ">Jay’s Journal of Anomalies Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; "> (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), is a collection of works from his quarterly newsletter of the same name. Among other enthusiasms, Jay takes great pleasure in flea circuses in a story he calls “The Smallest Show on Earth, Or Parasites for Sore Eyes.” The magician tracks back in time to nineteenth-century playbills touting the tiny chariots, costumes, actors, and understudies in “Prof. Roy G. Hecklers trained flea circus.” With a crooked grin on his face and gleam in his eye, Jay details the tricks performed by (and the proliferation of) these novelty acts. But of course they were not real—or were the? With Jay, we’re never sure. Thus does consciousness make fools of us all.

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">The two friends and collaborators say they are developing a unified field theory that links magic, crime, drama, and politics. For instance, said Mamet, Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.27; ">Oedipus Rex Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; "> as described in Aristotle’s Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.27; ">Poetics Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; "> bears a striking resemblance to the performance of a game of three-card monte. In both instances the mark is led to believe that he and only he can solve the problem at hand. Once the mark (Oedipus or a tourist on the fringe of a street con) has been reduced to a pathetic state, this theory, to Mamet, begins to cohere. (He hinted that a planned Broadway show will explore this idea more fully.)

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">    Beyond Mamet’s reductionist intellectual leanings, though, are the connections that Jay teases from the influence of magic on culture. Jay tells the tale of a life-size automaton chess player that delighted the empress Maria Theresa. It appeared to be a full-size wind-up toy, but was actually an elaborate cabinet trick and not a “real” automaton. One of the people fooled by the trick, however, was Edmund Cartwright. who was so inspired by the robotic chess player that it encouraged him to invent the power loom—which helped usher in the Industrial Age. Similarly, the cabinet trick magician created an early prototype for the telephone that was witnessed by a young fellow named Alexander Graham Bell.

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">Enthroned on a pair of rust-colored overstuffed chairs with a table between them, Mamet and Jay seemed to be spinning bits of ideas for an audience that they had earlier tried for one another. One imagines, though, that earlier incarnations of their free-form schmoozing included tumblers of scotch and clouds of cigar smoke (the speech of both men is marked by the flaccid enunciation of people who have a habit of speaking with cigars protruding from their lips).

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">    Near the evening’s end, a young man asked a thoughtful question about language in the year 2001 and Mamet’s imagined language for the year 3000. Here was an opportunity for a major influence in the shaping of theatrical text to discuss his vision of language and how it changes. Using the questioner’s words against him—the young man asked the writer to “reconcile” his use of today’s argot in creating a world view a millennium hence—Mamet replied dismissively, “I have an assistant who does all my reconciling.”

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">    Mamet’s sensitivity to how he is perceived as a writer became even clearer when he was asked about the use of vulgarity in his dialogue. He oddly likened himself to a presidential assassin. Commenting on how he has sometimes been taken to task for his use of the vernacular of the streets, Mamet said, “I thought I was writing poetry. It’s like Charles Guiteau; he could have cured cancer, but he’s only known for killing a president.” The Pulitzer Prize winner employed irony, to be sure, but the bitterness beneath the surface was raw, palpable, and more than a bit embarrassing to watch.

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; ">    Mamet says that he became a writer because, as an actor, he was “running on fumes” and he desperately needed to be part of the theater. After seeing the Palatino-Italic, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.27; ">Two Hussies Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; "> presentation, one is left wondering if that young actor ever tried rehearsal.

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Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">JEFFREY ERIC JENKINS

Palatino-Roman, 'Palatino'; font-size: 11.00pt; line-height: 1.27; " class="p2 ">NEW YORK UNIVERSITY