Staging Difference: Cultural Pluralism in American Theatre and Drama

By Marc Maufort | Go to book overview

The Devil's Advocate:
David Mamet's Oleanna and Political Correctness

Alain Piette

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Old proverb.

Ever since his work for the stage first received critical attention, most noticeably with Jack Kroll 1977 history-making review in Newsweek ( Kroll, "The Muzak Man"79), David Mamet has consistently been acclaimed as a language playwright. Most critics have concurred to hail his exceptional mastery of the dramatic dialogue, whether poetic and funny as in The Duck Variations and A Life in the Theatre, vituperative and obscene as in American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross, or verbally ebullient and sexually charged as in Sexual Perversity in Chicago and Edmond.

Few of his critics have resisted the temptation to label Mamet's gift of the gab. Some critics have borrowed their similes from the visual realm: C.W.E. Bigsby refers to the playwright's accuracy with words as "verbal pointillism" ( Bigsby, Introduction269). Jack Kroll rather speaks of "verbal cubism" ( Kroll, "The Muzak Man"79), while Ruby Cohn considers David Mamet as an "urban, vituperative miniaturist" with however "a limited palette" ( Cohn161). The same and other critics have also sought their comparisons in the musical or aural field. Jack Kroll, again, writes that David Mamet is "a cosmic eavesdropper who's caught the American aphasia" and "whose ear is tuned to an American frequency" ( Kroll, "The Muzak Man"79). John Ditzky finds that "the sound of his plays has the fascination of an overheard phone conversation" ( Ditzky26). Clive Barnes notes the playwright's "poetic, almost choral use of words" ( Barnes), which Mel Gussow defines as "everyday language distilled into homely poetry" ( Gussow III, 3). (With such a widely recognized gift for the rhythms, consonances, and asonances of language, it is not astonishing that Mamet should also have written a number of radio plays.)

Other critics still have preferred to coin their own phrases to try and pinpoint the peculiar nature of David Mamet's verbal qualities: thus, David Savran calls Mamet"a warrior-philologist" ( Savran132). Anne Dean"a verbal pornographer" ( Dean34), Guido Almansi"a virtuoso of invective"

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