I’ve been reading the Cambridge Companion to David Mamet. Here are some interesting quotations:
“Thematically, Mamet’s universe is strongly reminiscent of that of Jerome Bosch. Thematically and formally, [his plays are] also close to the essentially urban and nocturnal canvasses of Edward Hopper (1882-1967). … I believe that the creative techniques uses by the [Mamet and Hopper] are in many ways similar and that they both have wrongly been dubbed realistic” (81).
“Mamet and Hopper do not offer us a faithful reproduction of reality, but rather fragments of that reality as it can be perceived, for instance, through a keyhole, or through a window whose frame, together with the walls that surround it, makes it impossible for us to see that complete picture of the subjects observed and forces us therefore to imagine the rest, the invisible, the unseen. The window must be considered as both an opening onto that reality and an obstacle hiding it from view” (81).
And with reference to a specific play:
“[The main character’s] vain attempt to discover meaning in the urban inferno of the underworld ends with the realization of his total impotence and his unconditional surrender. Mamet, like Hopper, is reaching through the real towards the ontological and the metaphysical” (83).
Now, while my brain does shut off when I read words like ontological or metaphysical, I think what we are talking about is Mamet uses a real setting to create a fable. For Mamet qua playwright–damn, my brain shut off again at qua–, pointing towards the ontological–oops, again–is his job: he’s not making propaganda or writing an essay: he captures a conflict between people–be that conflict moral, physical, sexual, or spiritual. To capture conflict, the playwright must empathize with both sides of the conflict. Good drama will show both parties one-hundred percent right or wrong, depending on the position one takes. Given this type of empathy, Mamet would, as he does, write open-ended plays. This explains some of the reactions we find in responses to Mamet’s most recent work: The Anarchist. And older work as well.
Side note about THE NEWSROOM, TV, and the nature of theatre:
After a performance of one of Mamet’s plays, someone spat at Mamet saying, “Your play is politically irresponsible.” Mamet replied, “I have no political responsibility. I’m an artist. I write plays, not political propaganda. If you want easy solutions, turn on the boob tube. Social and political issues on TV are cartoons; the good guy wears a white hat, the bad guy a black hat. Cartoons don’t interest me” (223).
I have been growing increasingly annoyed at THE NEWSROOM, but then I realized that is isn’t realistic; it is a cartoon that uses real life to point towards the cartoonological. My brain never shuts off when I get my cartoonological on qua Donkey Kong.