Mamet, David

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Mamet, David

David Mamet (mămĕt´), 1947–, American playwright and film director, b. Chicago. He taught drama (and produced some of his early plays) at Goddard College. His work, often dealing with the success and failure of the American dream, is noted for its sharp, spare, compressed, often profane, and insightful dialogue. He came to public attention with such plays as Sexual Perversity in Chicago (1974) and American Buffalo (1975), later achieving widespread success with the corrosively brilliant Glengarry Glen Ross (1983; Pulitzer Prize) and Oleanna (1992), a scathing look at sexual politics. He also has written screenplays for The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), Hoffa (1992), the film version of Glengarry (1992), and many other films. In 1987, Mamet made his debut as a film director with House of Games, a complex story about deception and gullibility; he has since written and directed several films, including The Spanish Prisoner (1997), Heist (2001), and Spartan (2004). Mamet has also written, directed, or produced several television films. His first television series, The Unit, a network military drama, aired from 2006 to 2009.

By the beginning of the 21st cent. Mamet was widely regarded as one of the finest American writers for stage and screen. Some of his later plays, such as The Cryptogram (1995) and The Old Neighborhood (1997), have explored difficult semiautobiographical material. Mamet also ventured into satire with November, a play about contemporary presidential politics that was produced on Broadway in 2008, and he explored the nature of guilt and shame as they relate to racial, sexual, and legal issues in Race, which debuted on Broadway the following year. Throughout his career, Mamet has treated the themes of belonging, the vagaries of authority, the pivotal role played by loyalty, and the importance of speaking the truth. In addition to more than 20 plays and some two dozen screenplays, he has also written novels, e.g., The Village (1994), several collections of essays (including the autobiographical Jafsie and John Henry, 1999, and Bambi vs. Godzilla, 2007, on the film industry), a book on acting (1997), The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred, and the Jews (2006), and The Secret Knowledge (2011), an explanation of his conversion to conservative politics.

See biography by I. Nadel (2008); L. Kane, ed., David Mamet in Conversation (2001); studies by D. Carroll (1987), A. Dean (1990), N. Jones and S. Dykes (1991), L. Kane, ed. (1992) and as author (1999, 2004), G. Brewer (1993), C. C. Hudgins and L. Kane, ed. (2001), D. K. and J. A. Sauer (2003), H. Bloom, ed. (2004), and B. Barton (2005): C. Bigsby, ed., The Cambridge Companion to David Mamet (2004).

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