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Book and Article Reviews

Review of Brenda Murphy's Understanding David Mamet and an article by Ira Nadel on Mamet from the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism


Ira Nadel has published an encyclopedic essay “Boxing With Brecht: David Mamet and Bertolt Brecht” (Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 26.1: 103-124). There are innumerable parallels that Nadel draws between the two dramatists, reflecting his vast research for his biography of David Mamet, A Life in the Theatre (Palgrave). He begins by paralleling the interest both had in boxing, both using it as a metaphor for their ideals of drama and theatrical engagement. Nadel stretches the metaphor a bit to observe that “Dialogue itself is a boxing match for Mamet” and illustrates it with passages from Speed-the-Plow. He also notes Edmond’s Brechtian nature as well as noting that Water Engine also seems to owe much to Brecht. I would have liked him to expand on these two most direct parallels, however. Just noting similarities seems to open possibilities that could be further developed.

Brenda Murphy’s Understanding David Mamet (So. Car.) is not biographical but offers a substantial introduction to the plays. The chapters are a little strangely arranged: “Men with Men,” “Men with Women,” “Parents and Children,” “Confidence Games,” creating unusual mixes of plays. While some of the book is summary, the perceptions of individual plays are often insightful, as with the way John uses Robert in A Life in the Theatre. With Sexual Perversity in Chicago however she examines implied homosexuality and comes to a unique conclusion: “The fact is that no one in the play is confident of his or her sexuality to embrace an identity that deviates from heterosexuality.” The analysis goes overboard when she suggests Bernie “perhaps has the makings of a serial killer.” Taking language literally leads her rather far astray here, having already conceded that the play is more comic because of language than tragic as others might see it.