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New and Forthcoming

Leslie Kane surveys the year's work in Mamet studies and looks ahead.


Although a planned New York premiere of Boston Marriage failed to materialize in the 1999-2000 season, Mamet’s most recent play did have its British premiere this year at the Donmar Warehouse, which last year was the venue for the Atlantic Theater Company’s revival of American Buffalo . Throughout the theater season numerous Mamet plays, including classics American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross , were reprised in various venues around the country. A major Broadway revival of Glengarry Glen Ross is planned for late 2001, and discussions are underway to bring Phillyda Lloyd’s production of Boston Marriage to New York for the 2002 season. Heist (its title slightly altered from the previously reported The Heist ), opened at a number of film festivals in recent months, but its general distribution has been postponed three times in recent months, the latest after the tragic events of September 11. It is now expected to open in early November. And Mamet’s film of Beckett’s Catastrophe , which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2000, was aired on television on BBC 4 in June.

THEATER : Boston Marriage , starring the superb Zoë Wanamaker as Anna and Anna Chancellor as Claire, the two lesbian lovers in this period piece, opened at the Donmar Warehouse in March 2001 to mixed critical reviews. For example, Benedict Nightingale savaged the play as a “ghastly error” of judgment for which the author might be forgiven, noting that Mamet has written “about the uses and abuses of verbal fog with far more wit and subtlety in the past.” And while Matt Wolf found the play initially capricious with “peculiarly fruity prose” suggestive of “Oscar Wilde crossed with Genet,” he too concurred that it “quickly sinks under the weight of an ill-sustained stunt.” However, several London critics, among them Michael Billington, found much to praise in Mamet’s play, particularly its “exquisite literary banter and subversive modernism,” about which Richard Brucher wrote at length in his review of Boston Marriage’s premiere production (DMR Fall 1999). Likewise, John Peter aptly observed, “it could be Joe Orton parodying Edith Wharton, punctuating the formal exchanges with louche wisecracks ... as if to inform you that every silver cloud has a dirty lining.” In this strong production, Phyllida Lloyd’s coolly ironical direction strikes just the right balance; Wanamaker’s and Chancellor’s performances are “diamond-edged.” As the Scots maid, whose hilarious intrusions interrupt Anna and Claire’s witty banter, Lyndsey Marshal won kudos for her excellent performance. Peter McKintosh’s sets and costumes and Rick Fishers lighting (hauntingly effective in Gregory Mosher’s London production of The Cryptogram ) also garnered praise (reviewed in this issue). The production, with cast intact, is set to run for twelve weeks at the New Ambassadors Theatre in the West End from 28 November 2001 to 16 February 2002.

    A stunning production of Glengarry Glen Ross at the American Convervatory Theater’s Geary Theatre in San Francisco in late January was one of the most memorable revivals of the 2000-2001 season. Initially selected by artistic director Carey Perloff in the late spring of 2000 because she thought a production of Glengarry might prove a provocative, thought-provoking choice in the “ frenzy” then pervasive in San Francisco, her selection proved Perloff to be eerily prescient amidst the bust of 2001. Not only did Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece hold up beautifully after 17 years, the ATC revival, exceptionally well acted by a cast of veteran Bay Area actors, attracted praise from San Francisco critics for its ‘savagely funny, inescapably moving and relentless …exploration of the holy grail of success.” Making his local debut, English director Les Waters fashioned a seamless production whose staging, remarkably similar to that of Gregory Mosher’s Broadway production, and unhurried pace allowed the play’s con within the con to be fully appreciated. Berkeley Repertory Theater regular Tony Amendola turned in an outstanding performance as the desperation-driven Shelley Levene, whose hopelessness is increasingly apparent in facial expressions mirroring the yawning abyss of his failure. Similarly superb as the arrogant, ruthless Ricky Roma, Marco Barricelli’s mercurial smoothness sets the bait for the hapless James Lingk, compellingly portrayed by James Carpenter as Roma’s nearly silent, mesmerized prey. ACT’s Matt Gottlieb was utterly convincing as the befuddled George Aaronow duped by the machinations of John Apicella’s Dave Moss, while Rod Gnapp’s Williamson, the office manager, garnered notice for his portrait of cold opportunism. Also notable in this production was Loy Arcenas’ beautifully framed set (especially the deep-red leather booths and paper lanterns in the play’s Chinese restaurant scene and imploded office), and Ann Bruice Aling’s rumpled off-the-rack suits which help define the milieu. This production is reviewed in this issue.

Glengarry also received productions in Minneapolis, Boston, the metro-Washington, DC area, and Chicago with commendable, and frequently impressive, results. In mid-March the Director’s Theater opened its inaugural season at the Acadia Cabaret in Minneapolis with Mamet’s brutal study of survival, an apt metaphor for a new theater launched in this spring’s Nasdaq meltdown. For this small production, director Zach Curtis assembled a strong cast comprised of Marshall Hambro in the role of Shelley Levene, Alex Cole as the confident closer Ricky Roma, Erik Steen as the sales manager, and Ari Hoptman as Lingk, all “hang-dog angst and emasculation.’ Also notable this year was an explosive production of Glengarry in June at the Leland Center at the Boston Center for the Arts under the deft direction of David Miller, whose “edge-of-your-seat ride” riveted audiences. As Ricky Roma, Bruce Serafin turned in an impressively volatile performance, giving ample evidence that the Stanley B. Theatre Company was up to the challenge of portraying Mamet’s huckster real estate agents and the play’s rhythms. The Keegan Theatre’s undertaking of Mamet’s play in late July and early August in two venues in the Washington, DC area—Arlington and Crystal City, Virginia—proved far less successful.

    This spring the Two River Theater Company mounted a production of American Buffalo at the Algonquin Arts Theater under the direction of Robert M. Rechnitz, who mined the play’s rich humor. Bernie Sheredy (Donny), Michael Esper (Bobby), and especially Sean Patrick Reilly (Teach) turned in fine performances in a production whose shattering conclusion seemed less so, a trade-off, perhaps, thought one critic, for letting the comedy surface. Harry Feiner’s junk shop set aptly and artfully conveyed the down-and-out world of these would-be thieves with a sprawling display of bric-a-brac reminiscent of memorable American Buffalo sets. And, under the direction of Joe Banno, American Buffalo received a solid production at the Source Theatre, Washington, DC, running from late April through mid-May. While not quite up to the task of delivering Mamet’s profane poetry with the requisite operatic ability, Tim Carlin, David Lamont, and Rick Foucheux as Donny, Bobby, and Teach, respectively, turned in strong performances. Whereas Carlin’s Donny was an even-tempered guy who looks out for others and for his own interests, and Wilson’s Bobby sufficiently disarming but simple enough to justify Teach’s irritation with him, Foucheux was wonderful as Teach: “all profanity and scheming and defiantly needful.’ Although critics noted that actors rushed their lines in the early moments of this production, once characters fully engaged in the play’s give-and take, the production and performances soared, doing justice to Mamet’s ferociously funny portrait of opportunity lost and friendship betrayed.

American Buffalo also received a fine production in June at the Laguna Playhouse. In the tradition of Mike Nussbaum, who, with his collaborator Brian Russell, fashioned a fresh, fast-paced production of American Buffalo at the American Theater Company in December 1999 (revived this summer for five weeks with Nussbaum as Donny, along with Andrew Micheli and John Sterchi), under Andrew Barnicle’s taut direction, this American classic seemed timeless. Mike Hagerty, a stout, grizzle-bearded and unkempt-looking actor, using his heft and “remarkably expressive voice and eyes,” garnered significant praise for his portrayal of Donny. A Chicago native, Hagerty may be the first actor to play Donny who has first-hand experience with pig stickers. As an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, he drove a meat delivery truck before classes to earn money for tuition and expenses. Joshua Hutchinson (Bobby) achieved the right balance of apprentice criminal eager to please and haunted, beleaguered junkie, while David Gianopoulos (Teach), strutting around Don’s junk shop “with a swagger worthy of “ Saturday Night Fever ,” turned in a performance that never quite found thresholds of anxiety and outrage to match those of his “Fuckin’ Ruthie” entrance. Sets and costumes by Richard Odle featured a consummate junk shop, while David Edwards’ sound design included intermittent rumblings of the “El” in Chicago.

    And, in February 2001, the Steppenwolf Theater’s Arts Exchange program mounted a “stylish, high energy, impeccably executed revival” of The Water Engine , its one-hour running time possessing the complexity and power of a much longer work. The highly regarded production featured performances by David Engel as the inventor Charles Lang, Matthew Callahan as the Foley Artist (who also co-designed the elaborate sound system that Engine demands with Chris Johnson), and Steve Emily as Morton Gross, the corrupt attorney who suckers Lang into signing a contract by promising a patent for his invention, the plans for which Gross intends to steal for his own personal gain. Jessica Thebus’ deft direction, Stephanie Nelson’s eye-catching set, Brooke M. Schnaffner’s stylish costumes, and J.R. Lederle’s lighting expertly captured the era. This production was remounted during the summer at the Theater on the Lake, the summer repertory series supported by the Chicago Parks Department that affords Chicago’s professional theater community a venue to stage some of the best productions of the season.

Other productions of note this season include a three-week run of The Water Engine at the Tremont Theater, Boston. in September 2000, featuring a wonderful performance by Gideon Banner as Charles Lang, of Revenge of the Space Pandas at the Atlantic Theater Company, New York, in March, and of Sexual Perversity in Chicago by the Naked Theatre, Phoenix, in May. Speed-the-Plow , with Gerry Howell, Brett Goldstein, and Sophie Crichton in a Benet Catty production, was staged at the Edinburgh Festival (August 1-26), followed by a brief London run (September 18-22). This fall, look for a revised production of Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants , scheduled to open at the Market Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

MAMET DIRECTS : The first installment of the Beckett on Film Project, brainchild of Michael Colgan, director of Dublin’s Gate Theatre (who was also the force behind this summer’s week-long homage to Harold Pinter at Lincoln Center), was aired in June on BBC Channel 4; it is expected to be aired on Public Television stations in the U.S. this spring. Colgan, with whom I spoke at the Pinter Festival, told me that he conceived of the idea of Mamet directing Pinter playing Beckett, noting that this pairing underscored “the continuum of influence’ of one writer upon the other. In Catastrophe Pinter portrays a theater director who Paul Hoggart remarks “sound[s] bizarrely like his political antithesis, Frederick Forsyth”; John Gielgud gives his last performance in this film, which also features Rebecca Pidgeon.

Heist , Mamet’s latest noirish thriller about robbery and loyalty, had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August. which Mamet attended with Rebecca Pidgeon. In September Heist opened at the Toronto International Film Festival, with the writer/director on hand to introduce his film. Also in attendance were two of the film’s stars, Danny DeVito and Delroy Lindo. Later that month, Heist was screened at the Boston Film Festival, where it elicited the ire of shocked audiences. Many in attendance thought that screening the film, which depicts Gene Hackman breaching airport security, impersonating an FAA official, and attempting to hijack a plane at Logan Airport, was inappropriate so soon after the September 11 attacks.

    For his eighth film as writer/director, Mamet has assembled an excellent cast headed by Gene Hackman as the brains of a gang of professional thieves. Hackman, who plays Joe Moore, an aging master thief with a beautiful young wife played by Rebecca Pidgeon, finds himself broke, betrayed, and blackmailed. Repeating a pattern of recent films, such The Spanish Prisoner , The Winslow Boy , and State and Main , the cast features wonderfully talented actors new to Mamet’s work—Hackman, Delroy Lindo, and Sam Rockwell—and those with whom he has previously collaborated, such as Danny DeVito ( Hoffa ) as Joe Moore’s fence, Ricky Jay, and Patti Lupone. Heist teams up Mamet with producer Art Linson ( The Untouchables ) and skilled editor Barbara Tulliver, who has collaborated on six of Mamet’s films, most recently Catastrophe , State and Main , and The Winslow Boy . Steven Gale’s review of Heist is included in this issue.

State and Main, Mamet’s entertaining and frequently sidesplitting satire about a movie crew that invades a small New England town, opened for general distribution in December. The wonderful ensemble cast features Philip Seymour Hoffman as Joe White, a naïve first-time screenwriter, William H. Macy as a smooth-talking director, Alec Baldwin as a sex-crazed star with a taste for teenage girls, and Sarah Jessica Parker as the bimbo starlet who refuses to bare her breasts unless she’s paid an additional $800,000. David Paymer is the tough, take no prisoners producer, whose no-nonsense speech is peppered with Yiddish expressions. Packed with in-jokes, State and Main takes aim at both the impressionable locals and the self-important movie people, and as in Wag the Dog , Mamet gets a good bit of comic mileage out of White’s contention that his film is “about the quest for purity.” David Sauer’s film review appears in this issue. Now available on tape and DVD, State and Main was nominated for and/or the recipient of numerous film awards: winner of Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival Jury Award for Best Film 2000 and Best Supporting Actor for Willam H. Macy; winner of the National Board of Review 2000 Best Ensemble Performance; winner of Online Film Critics Society Award 2001 Best Ensemble Performance and nominee for Best Screenplay; and nominee for the Chicago Film Critics Award 2001. In a bit of trivia that might have escaped notice amid the political wrangling of the post-election period, President Clinton took advantage of a favorite presidential perk for the last time at 12:45 A.M. on January 20, 2001, as the Bush clan slept across the street from the White House. Escorting his wife Hilary and daughter Chelsea to the White House theater, Clinton and his family watched Mamet’s State and Main .

    FILMSCRIPTS :    The film version of Lakeboat , featuring a screenplay by Mamet, under the direction of Joe Mantegna, was released for limited general distribution in August 2001. It was so limited that few of us had an opportunity to see it in our local theaters. Boston Globe film reviewer Jay Carr noted that while Lakeboat onscreen ‘feels a bit flat,” the crew‘s “profanity-ridden and often sexist exchanges” delivered by old pros such as Charles Durning, Peter Falk, J.J. Johnston, and Jack Wallace, become a unique verbal currency for “the camaraderie they all crave.” And Lawrence Johnson of the Sun-Sentinel observed that Robert Forrester’s performance as Joe, the most thoughtful of the sailors who once aspired to higher things, delivers an Oscar-caliber performance, his “understated, beautifully modulated portrayal of quiet desperation’ providing the film’s “finest moments.” Richard Brucher was one of the lucky few to see the film; his review is included in this issue.

Mamet has recently completed the screenplay for Whistle , adapted from the James Jones novel, the last work in the trilogy of Jones novels, following From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line . Directed by Sidney Lumet, Whistle is scheduled to appear in 2002. However, since this project is currently listed as “in production,” lets hope that, unlike High and Low which failed to get sufficient backing, it does not languish in “production” hell. Filming is set to commence shortly in England for Mamet’s adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Jude Law.

PUBLICATIONS : Mamet has penned the introduction for a collection of movie and theater set production photographs by noted photographer Brigette Lacombe. Lacombe’s stunning work will appear in Lacombe Cinema/Theater , due out in Spring 2002. And he has written the foreword for The River Run Cookbook: Southern Comfort in Vermont , a collection of recipes from Plainfield neighbors. The River Run is an institution in Vermont whose food is legendary: cook Jimmy Kennedy’s wife, Maya Kennedy, created the illustrations for Mamet’s The Duck and the Goat .

NOTABLE EVENTS : Also this year the writer sat down with actor/director and good friend Mike Nussbaum for a public conversation moderated by Bill Kurtis at the Old Town School of Music, Chicago. Entitled “Mamet and Mike: A Conversation About 25 Years of Chicago Theater,” the evening was a fund-raiser to benefit the American Theatre Company. Women in Film and Video New England honored actress Rebecca Pidgeon at a reception held in late May at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, Boston. And in October, Ricky Jay and David Mamet appeared at Town Hall in New York, billing themselves as “Two Hussies.” The two “read and shamelessly flog their new books,” Jay’s Journal of Anomalies and Wilson . Intended as a “colloquy concerning the history, present state and future of the performing arts,” this event took on new meaning in the wake of September 11. Jeffrey Jenkins’ report on the event appears in this issue.