Book Review: David Mamet: A Research and Production Sourcebook.
Janice Sauer and David Sauer. David Mamet: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003. 382 pp. Cloth $75.00.
In David Mamet: A Research and Production Sourcebook, Janice and David Sauer have assembled a thoroughly researched and cogently organized compilation of primary and secondary sources devoted to Mamet’s theatrical writings—something quite apart from the incessant dissembling and equivocating that typify Mamet’s dramatic world. This bibliography, the result of decade-long (and still ongoing) project by the Sauers, published in installments in The David Mamet Review since 1992, endeavors to facilitate the study of the “performance dimension” of Mamet’s plays (viii). Consequently, the authors have sought, and generally succeeded, to provide the “full panoply of reviews for a given play” whenever possible (viii).
Major plays such as American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Speed-the-Plow garner between eighty and ninety summarized reviews, while minor plays average considerably fewer (reviews of films, adaptations, books, and poems were deliberately excluded because of page constraints). The juxtaposing of not just different productions, directors, and actors (encompassing several decades of staging Mamet’s plays) but also critical assessment of these performative aspects guarantees that this sourcebook would be invaluable for any study of Mamet’s theatrical writing.
Among the fairly standard categories of primary and secondary sources, including brief sections devoted to dissertations and film scholarship, are two noteworthy sections. “Selected Short Writings” is comprised of articles, reviews, and short plays written by Mamet that the Sauers have compiled from a wide variety of sources—from the Chicago Sun-Times to Vanity Fair to Harvard Review—that encompass his more than three decades of writing for the theater. And “Selected Interviews and Profiles” includes a number of noteworthy print, radio, and television interviews, ranging from a 1974 profile in the Chicago Daily News to a 2002 interview in the New York Times. Both sections provide important information for lengthy studies of Mamet’s work or even for biographical writing about the playwright.
The Sauers do include a brief biographical essay of their own, but it is limited to Mamet’s career (only marriages, divorce, and births of his children are included from his personal life). Within the biography, the authors link Mamet’s dramaturgy to well-known traditions (Stanislavsky for acting and Eisenstein for cinema) and highlight Mamet’s assumptions about theater, through his notes about the St. Nicholas Theatre Company, which sought “’to establish a common vocabulary, and a common method which will permit us to bring to the stage (not through our insights, but through our craft) this truth in the form of action’” (2).
The individual play entries are, of course, the real strength of the bibliography. For each play, the authors include a plethora of information: dedication of the play, scene, time, characters, edition, awards, plot outline (which is generally brief but accurate), productions, overview of performance reviews, summarizes of individual reviews, an overview of scholarship, and summaries of individual scholarly works (cross-referenced with articles not devoted to any one play). The overview of performance reviews cogently summarizes diverse reactions among critics: “Reviews [of American Buffalo] were mostly positive for many different reasons—Lewis saw it as a ‘comic piece,’ Barber as a depiction of ‘longing,’ Chaillet about the suspension of the ethical sense, and Billington, ‘the lunacy of acquisitiveness’” (47).
The individual reviews—especially those regarding highly successful productions or noteworthy failures—moreover, offer insights into the complexity and contradictions of portraying Mamet’s characters. And the overview of scholarship is straightforward and highly readable, often locating the summarized article within the context of larger debates regarding Mamet’s oeuvre: “A number of critics [of Oleanna] assume Mamet’s misogyny. . . . Others seek to understand the play’s contribution to current disputes over sexual harassment and political correctness. . . . A third group looks at the abuses of power and/or the nature of language” (244).
Overall, Janice and David Sauer have produced an invaluable reference book for any scholarship devoted to David Mamet’s theatrical writings, and potentially any study of contemporary American theater, which Mamet’s distinctive dialogue, equivocating characters, and scathing indictment of the follies and failures of modern civilization have profoundly shaped. The Sauers’ bibliography not only makes clear and readily available much of the ever-expanding body of performative and scholarly criticism devoted to Mamet’s work but also facilitates the expansion of that criticism by inviting contributions by scholars (and potentially newcomers as well) to the many debates surrounding Mamet’s considerable body of work.
J. Chris Westgate
University of California, Davis