Add Your Responses To Those of Our Panel: “To Praise or Pillory: The Case For (or against) David Mamet”

This discussion begins a multi-week discourse about the enduring relevance of the works and words of David Mamet.  On Sunday, February 24 at 4:30 pm, the conversation continues with a panel on Mamet’s Jewish Identity
featuring The Forward‘s Ezra Glinter and Joshua Furst, author and frequent contributer toThe Forward.

The video here records the final panel session from our RACE IN AMERICA: WHERE ARE WE NOW? Symposium Weekend.  Moderators: Ryan Rilette, Artistic Director of Round House Theatre Ari Roth, Artistic Director of Theater J

Featured Panelists:

• Mitchell Hébert, Director of Round House Theatre’s production of Glengarry Glen Ross and 2012 Helen Hayes Award recipient for Outstanding Lead Actor in Theater J’s production of After the Fall

• Joy Zinoman, Director, Founding Artistic Director of Studio Theatre

• Javier Rivera, Assistant Professor Theatre/Music Theatre at American University

• KenYatta Rogers, Director, Educator, and Actor in Glengarry Glen Ross

• Jennifer Nelson, Writer/Director Founding Producing Director of African Continuum Theatre

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32 responses to “Add Your Responses To Those of Our Panel: “To Praise or Pillory: The Case For (or against) David Mamet”

  1. To quote the question posed at the top of the panel discussion by Ari Roth’s co moderator “Do you agree with his politics? Do you like him as a person? Do you like him as a playwright?” Are these the same questions, and are they mutually exclusive?

    Just as he noted, and critical to our understanding of this overall discussion – Throughout history, there have been horrible people who have been great artists. Picasso was a masogonist. Two of the women he had relationships with, killed themselves. Two of them went mad. He goes on to list a littany of people who were the greatest in their various art fields and who had varying degrees of insanity.

    Then we look at Peter Marks, the famed Washington Post theater critic.
    “Race” is Mamet meets “Law & Order,” and like most episodes of that long-running franchise, it is juicy and rife with plot twists — and almost instantly forgettable. Hinging on a broad-brush belief in a national tribal mentality, it’s as unsubtle as the issue is complex (and even the title suggests a reductive treatment of the subject).

    The issue here is that, as Marks says, Mamet takes complex issues and simplifies them – whether that is right or wrong is among the issues at hand. I would argue that not only is this type of art important, but that for a piece of art to garner this type and level of importance, it must tackle the critical, if increasingly difficult, issues of its time period.

    We have spoken ad nauseam of Springsteen on this blog (which I assume full liability for). Springsteen, a liberal Democrat, has been quick to bashing Republican administrations, including Ronadl Reagan in 1980 through music, and again in 1984 by not allowing BITUSA to be used at Reagan campaign rallies, an indirect slam to the incumbent President.
    In 2005, a tilted solo acoustic record, “Devlis and Dust” suggested that President Bush was the ‘devil,’ capable of using “Magic” (which became a 2007 best-selling record) to deceive the American public.
    In 2012, however, in arguable his greatest work to date, “Wrecking Ball” expresses a neutral distaste with America, starting at the top, but being upheld by the public below. In the first, fresh track, which served as the lead off single, “We Take Care of Our Own,” Bruce is quick to admonish the current administration and folks at the top as well, lending the infuriated question, “I’ve been knocking on the door that holds the throne. I’ve been looking for the map that leads me home.” (In case you were wondering, home is America and President Obama, whom Springsteen originally supported, holds that throne.)

    The connection here is that Springsteen tackles tough issues but does so because he deems them relevant. Perhaps Mamet, who may have held several racist and boldly conservative views, simply felt that he needed to let the folks below (at home) and at the top (holding the throne) know that this was an issue in America. He took to the typewriter and pulled a pen out and crafted his art – a play. Springsteen took the famed notebook, pen, and acoustic guitar out, and crafted his art – a song. In both men’s cases, they held widely known and half accepted (by the various sects that support their politics or social views) positions. They were simply doing what, in my view, is the most important thing an artist can do with their art – bringing the conversation to the table.
    Marks agrees that this goes on for “80 argumentative minutes,” (in “Race”) but that, “The work requires exquisite timing, which comes and goes in director Mitchell Hebert’s respectable production, for which James Kronzer has devised a superlative set.” The work was brought to the table, the conversation to the forefront, open to differing interpretations (Including Marks’) but nonetheless it is a conversation that is being had. Just like Springsteen. In this way, Mamet won – I disagree wholeheartedly with his social and racist views, but he wanted us to have a conversation. Blog or not, it’s one we’re having.

    • Several things come to mind when watching the film version of “GlenGary Glen Ross.” The first of which is that where you are and how you consume a play, film, or other piece of art is as relevant as what actors portray what parts and the set decoration – details that are seemingly menial become grossly significant when it comes to consumption and perception of a piece of art, any kind of art, and these screenplays, plays, or films are certainly no exception.

      I’m watching GlenGary Glen Ross for the second time in the film version, having seen the play only once (with this class). The first was in my home with Dolby Digital surround sound, and I’m reminded of how both times I viewed the film, the sound is gorgeous, I can eat or drink what I want, and the viewer experience underscores the challenges faced by the theater companies, as a business, just as Ari Roth delineated last Thursday. (Of food costs versus cost of cleanup in a theater, etc.)

      I’m also realizing that, for whatever reason, the language across several vectors, hits me less hard on the film than it does in theater, perhaps because the very nature of a theater play is that the dialogue occurs as though the actors and characters themselves are speaking right to you – literally within a matter of feet away from you – and that is the beauty of humanizing the various roles being portrayed.

      Therefore, I hold true to my original conviction, which is only even further highlighted by viewing the film version – that whomever says Mamet is grossly offensive, ‘swears too much,’ or otherwise thinks he is out of touch with modern reality (even though this was in the 80s, most of it still holds true) has simply not been exposed to the harsh realities of the game we call ‘life,’ a fascination of mind that has only grown more stark as my purview in Washington has come to include everyone from Senior Advisors to interns, and even those interns with varying levels of career experience, express themselves depending on how they’ve been exposed to life. Clearly, Mamet has been exposed, and he wants you to be, too. And he does a fine job of it – in the film version here, as well.

  2. One of the main points of the panelists was that Mamet’s characters had become more simplistic. Initially, I thought that the characters in “RACE” were very powerful, since I could see a bit of myself in all of them- the passive racism in Jack, the bitter but passionate carrying of a history larger than yourself in Susan, and the high expectations that others should work just as hard as you for success in Henry. And these striking chords have been one of my primary defenses for “RACE”’s brilliance. But Ryan Rilette cast my interpretation of them into a new light- each of them is solely driven by these singular features. The only other motivation, delegated to Jack and Henry, is success, which is portrayed in exactly the same kind of ruthlessness to win the case regardless of the morality. In contrast, while the real estate agents in “Glengarry Glen Ross” will do anything to close and gain money, it is manifested in a variety of complex ways attuned to each man. Shelly bargains, eventually steals, Moss plots revenge and manipulates, and Roma spins elaborate tales to bind his clients. While I will not deny my emotional response and connection to the play from seeing so much of myself in “RACE,” the fact that these characteristics are so cleanly divided between characters does contribute to the point that they have become less three-dimensional.

    Another topic that was only briefly touched by Joy Zinoman, but stayed with me for the rest of the discussion, was how much of each play is topical or universal? Both of them exist in a very specific time frame that gives a sense of realism to them- “Glengarry Glen Ross” in its cutthroat depiction of the eighties and use of language with the intention to shock and “RACE” in that it marks the shift to an unavoidably more diverse world- the events within are not just floating in time. But the argument that many of the panelists make in the video is that “Glengarry Glen Ross” is much more universal than topical. Attaining the American Dream, or at least the struggle for success and money, is a common subject matter in so many works of fiction and within our own lives, and as previously stated, is capable of possessing so many different nuances. Meanwhile, to the panelists “RACE” lacks the depth to endure beyond this present moment of salience, whether because of its over-emphasis on action, Mamet’s current lack of curiosity in dealing with huge issues, thus leading to his strain of only polemic works, or Mamet’s unwillingness to communicate properly with the audience and actors. At this point, it is difficult to determine if the panelists are correct in their analyses.

    Which brings me to another question- how much of a play has to be universal in order for it to possess more value? In its short mention, Joy Zinoman seems to imply that it is better to have a more universal work. Obviously, having a piece of literature possessing themes that can be read and enjoyed in all time periods manages to portray something essential about human nature, but is there not merit in a play that captures a time period exactly as it is, to be looked back upon as a defining product of a period? I am not making the claim that “RACE” accomplishes this, so perhaps it is not so related to the Mamet discussion we are having here. Maybe if we can determine that “RACE” is topical in this sense, that its opinions on race relations will be a reference point in decades to come, maybe then we can start the debate that Mamet’s later works still carry relevance.

  3. The controversy surrounding #mametgate is a very common one. Chicken lovers across the nation protested Chick-fil-A when the ultra social conservative owner announced he was not in favor of gay marriage, and even those observing the strictest vegan and gluten free diets wouldn’t step foot into a Whole Foods when the CEO was publicly against universal health care. I have a problem with this type of activism. I think in a society that values freedom of ideas above all else, it is totally unfair to punish others when their ideas are different. These for-profit businesses’ main goal is to generate revenue — not to raise money to assert ideas. Should it really be the practice of an economy grounded in capitalism to research the personal beliefs of any owner or CEO before frequenting their business? Furthermore, should we research the beliefs of every person who contributed to making our fast food chicken snacks, down to the teenager taking your order? I don’t believe so.

    I think the same principals apply to the current controversy regarding Mamet. When theater-goers choose to boycott a Mamet production due to his differing political beliefs, they are more likely hurting the local theaters who produced the plays than Mamet himself. Some may argue that unlike a business, however, the purpose of a play is to espouse the playwright’s beliefs. However, I think watching a demonstration of ideas you don’t believe in is a useful exercise. Isn’t the beauty of the stage the ability to see differing ideas? I think this is irrelevant in the case of Race tho. People are upset with Mamet’s political conservativeness, but I didn’t see Race as a play about policy. I didn’t even think Race put forth any concrete idea. It certainly didn’t seem to offer a solution to the complex issue to race in a “post-racial” America. Rather, it threw the issue to the audience and allowed us to reflect and draw our own conclusions.

    I really enjoyed Joy Zinoman’s insight into the issue. She mentioned her greater appreciation for the earlier works of Mamet. However, she made clear that her opinion was not based on her dislike of Mamet’s politics. Rather, she thought his style had changed. An audience member brought up that perhaps Mamet’s style had become more simplistic in his later plays due to his shift in political thought. As a someone who ascribes to largely conservative ideals, I found this view to be rather offensive. Maybe I misunderstood the statement, but it seemed as if the audience member was implying that conservatism is associated with close-mindedness and inability to be artistic. I know plenty of close-minded conservatives, but I also know plenty of close-minded liberals. And, I think that dismissing someone’s work because of their private ideas is in itself close-minded.

    • The movie version of Glengarry Glen Ross and the play version have different ways of portraying the isolated existences of these characters. The first scene of the movie shows several salesmen in phone booths. I thought this image so powerfully illustrated these characters’ isolation — the men are so close to each other physically, yet they are separated by the glass partitions. While they can see through the glass to each other, they are each absorbed fully into their conversations. In the play, I think this isolation is most visibly displayed in the Chinese restaurant. Three different booths hold three different conversations that are happening simultaneously. The conversations are presented separately — making each table appear removed from its surroundings.

      I thought the movie did a better job of making the viewer empathize with how frustrating these men’s lives are. The most defining characteristic of Glengarry the movie is the constant downpour during the entire first half. Beginning the movie in such a dark a dreary setting casts an ominous message for the entire production. This setting is really only possible for a movie to achieve. The rain acts as an environmental obstacle that the characters must overcome. The rain enhances the conflict between Shelley and Williamson. Shelley tries to strike a deal with Williamson for the leads by getting into Williamson’s parked car. Shelley, being pelted by the rain, is seeking shelter in Williamson’s car in order to talk. When Williamson ultimately refuses to help him, he forces Shelley out of the car and back into the rain. The harsh environment makes Williamson’s lack of help seem even colder while making Shelley seem more pathetic.

      I also think that Blake, played by Alec Baldwin, was a welcome addition to the ensemble. His fiery speech made the audience understand early on the central conflict of the story. It is explained clearly that while this group has a common goal, the members are very much working against each other. This helps to illustrate their unique brand of camaraderie that I think Mamet is trying to showcase in Glengarry. These men are horrible to each other, but they also have a special kinship due to their shared experiences. For men who make a living lying, they really can only be honest with each other. However, the nature of their relationship doesn’t allow them to trust one another. These conflicting characteristics create a really interesting dynamic that makes Glengarry so fun to watch both onscreen and on stage. Personally, I gained more from the movie’s presentation of these tumultuous relationships than the play’s. However, the thrill of seeing Mamet’s electric dialogue performed live made the play more entertaining.

  4. David Mamet obviously holds some political views that some, including myself, find unsavory. At the beginning of the panel, one of the panelists quotes a newspaper article by way of introduction. He says that you can’t judge the artist and the artist’s work in the same way. You judge the artist in terms of moral values, but you judge the artist’s work in terms of aesthetic values. When you think of it this way, the question becomes: Can you separate the man and his ideas from his work, or are they inseparable? The panelist says that it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to separate the artist from his work.
    I agree with his assessment. Although you judge the artist and the art in different ways, the artist still leaves a very perceptible impact on his/her work. I think that it’s very hard to judge a piece of art—painting, play, book, etc.—without taking into account the messages it portrays. However compelling the piece of art, something will always keep you from fully appreciating it if you morally disagree with what it’s telling you. Mamet’s misogynistic tendencies are palpable in the plotline of Race and in the all-male casting of Glen Gary Glen Ross. His flagrant swearing and disregard for social boundaries is shocking and uncomfortable. You can’t separate the bad parts from the good. So any judgments you make about the play somehow must incorporate your thoughts about the artist as well.
    In that case, I think that David Mamet’s work is very good, but with limitations. I’m not sure if David Mamet’s work could be compared to, for example, Our Town. Maybe it’s unfair of me to do so, but whenever I’m considering the value of a piece of art, I try to imagine how long it will last, and how maybe generations will be impressed by it. I think that if an artistic work can survive the test of time, then it’s worth a lot. I can’t really picture Mamet’s work still moving audiences generations from now, like Our Town was able to move me more than half a century later.

  5. In the panel discussion from two weekends ago, the esteemed panelists discussed a decline that they saw in Mamet’s more recent work, as well as separating his politics from his personal self.

    One comment I heard during the panel stuck with me more than the others. Jennifer Nelson said that her pet peeve of Mamet is that she feels manipulated by him, but he does make you think outside of your own perspective. She also said that she was more bothered by his misogyny than his racism. Listening to these comments I initially did not know what to make of them, but after watching the filmed version of his play “Oleanna,” which Mamet directed, I understand what she said much more.

    Although I am a huge feminist, as well as a young adult woman, I could not sympathize with the sexual assault victim, Carol, during the film at all. Mamet gives his audience very little to relate to the woman with, and she comes off as naïve and manipulative of her situation. The way Mamet wrote the script and the characters did feel very controlled in a way; in a way it was almost impossible for even the most hardened feminist (i.e. me) to find much common ground or explanation for the character of Carol. I did not like that I felt this way about Carol, however I just did.

    I had different feelings about Mamet in regards to his play “Race” versus “Oleanna.” In “Race,” I was not turned off by the racism and sexism displayed by some of the characters because I interpreted it as being a necessary part of the play and the shortcomings of these characters were for the audience to look at them and analyze their flaws and weaknesses. In other words, I did not take Mamet for an insensitive, bigoted person because he used the N word in Race. However, in “Oleanna,” I did not see the necessity in making Carol come off as more of the villain character than John (the professor). It seemed like Mamet wants to come off as someone who is well-rounded in all issues that plague society (racism, sexism, etc.) but did not successfully pull it off in “Oleanna.” I did not see a reason to portray Carol the way that he did in the play, and I found it hard not to take Mamet as a misogynist himself if he could turn a story about sexual assault against women into a conniving plot by a young student to strip a professor of his power and prestige.

    I am wondering what type of effect watching the actual play would have on me. In several reviews I read about the revival of this play a few years ago, the revival was blasted as not being as fast-paced and poignant as the original debut of this play and the movie that was directed by Mamet. However, I found the movie to be slow paced and would be interested in looking for a recording of the play version directed by Mamet to see if I get a different sense of the message that Mamet is trying to get across.

    So can you separate the politics from the person? For now, this is a question that I cannot answer. However, I believe if you can separate the politics from the person it is a great challenge indeed.

  6. After watching Oleanna, a David Mamet play-turned-movie, I was very surprised to find how much more I understood David Mamet himself. The character Oleanna and the character Susan from Race are so similar they could almost be the same person. The male characters John and Jack (could Mamet have made their names so similar on purpose?) talk to the female characters in precisely the same manner. Oleanna and Susan reply in the same way. I wasn’t totally convinced about David Mamet’s misogynistic beliefs before seeing Oleanna, but after I was absolutely persuaded that he thought women were somehow incapable and inferior.

    Throughout the productions, Oleanna and Susan are both constantly in conversation with John and Jack, respectively, and the dynamics of their conversations enforce Mamet’s idea of what can only be described as the inferiority of the woman. Oleanna and Susan incessantly repeat the words of their male counterpart. It’s my impression that not even half of their own lines are original—more than half the time they are simply parroting whatever it is that the male character self-importantly stated. Additionally, almost every line they speak is in the form of a question. The female character always asks questions, but almost never answers them—that task is left to the male character, which further enforces the status quo. Also, the female characters are continuously being interrupted by the male character. Sometimes this pattern is broken abruptly by the female character’s angry comment, such as when Oleanna dramatically breaks the tea cup, but the trend commences again almost instantly.

    Not only does the scripts’ language imply the inferior status of women in regard to men, but so do the attitudes of the characters themselves. Both Susan and Oleanna are driven by the need to follow the rules that society has outlined for them. Whether this means getting an education, being distrustful of the opposite sex or race, or maintaining the integrity of their heritage, these women struggle to break convention. For example, Susan doesn’t swear like the men in the office and Oleanna is determined to succeed in college because she is expected to, despite the fact that she may or may not be capable of doing so.

    I was glad I watched Oleanna, because it made me realize how much I dislike the messages Mamet portrays in his plays, and how much I dislike his style of writing dialogue.

  7. Going into “Oleanna,” I was very much influenced by something Joy Zinoman said in response to Mamet’s portrayal of women and power: “’Oleanna’ has a lot of power. But we say that we don’t like that power- that power is corrupt, isn’t true.” From the very beginning, Carol does have power that the audience becomes gradually more aware of until the end of the play. She enforces her own rules on conversation, breaking up the flow with her questions and deciding what vocabulary John is allowed to use. When John keeps talking over her in the first scene about higher education as an entitlement, she stands up and yells, “I believe I was speaking,” and subsequently forces him to clean up her broken tea cup and apologize. Just on a behavioral level, this only becomes more apparent after she files the report with the tenure board, making him read her words out loud and completely dominating the debate in the final scene. The assertions Carol makes against John were not false in that he said those quotes and carried out those actions, but she and him have completely different interpretations of them. She states that they did have a sexual nature to them. Her assertions were not out of context because “I say it was not,” and she has her own definition of what rape is that holds up in the play. Carol does have power, and it does feel untrue. I can understand why “Oleanna” is grouped as one of Mamet’s later plays, thematically. It takes a very similar approach to “RACE” in that it is a very uncomfortable look at a serious issue.

    But giving a woman power does not excuse Mamet from misogyny, especially if it is this kind of power that leaves the audience unsettled and doubtful of the integrity of the female character. While I can connect with Carol on one level, that it is very frustrating for deeply personal issues to be treated as only abstract subjects of intellectual discussion, I would be unable to go to the lengths that she does to make John realize his world of paternal privilege (was the only way to make him realize to put him through this experience?). I do not even think John exclusively lives in a world of paternal privilege. In the beginning of the film, Carol seems to connect with John over their shared difficulties of overcoming the imposed mentality of failure. He has not had a straightforward path laid out for him and so he does not make the best target for her group’s agenda. That is not to say that John can be excused from any blame, either; if anything, over the course of the film we are showed how despairingly imperfect this seemingly well-put together man is. True, the pressure and circumstances he is put under are enormous, but when it comes down to it, he is incapable of maintaining his principles. Though John himself is very disappointed when Carol initially turned his philosophical discussion back to the matter of her grade, he does the same thing in pleading for his job, which Carol masterfully recognizes. At this point, he is not interested in learning something for the sake of learning it. As for his display of violence at the end, in the film I thought that John’s breakdown felt extremely out of character- while he had demonstrated a tendency for physical restraint in the past, he came off as more defeated than volatile. Perhaps another interpretation would have better hinted that John was reaching his snapping point, and just because it seemed odd, it does not mean that it did not happen.

    To try and better understand Mamet’s work, and in the spirit of Javier Rivera’s production, I wondered about the feasibility of a gender-swapped “Oleanna.” At first glance, I thought that the premise would still be possible- a student accusing their college professor of sexual misconduct using quotes and actions taken using a different context- but then I realized there would be many issues going further. Even though the idea of a woman supporting her family by earning tenure and being able to pay for their new house is more palpable today than when the play was first written, the claims that Carol makes about worlds of privilege would not hold up if said by a male student. A female professor could still question the necessity of higher education, but the student would not have the legitimacy to say that she fails to understand the struggle of his group to reach that point. The patriarchal element is central to Carol’s contention, and it builds and exponentially expands her attack on John’s behavior. As related to the panel discussion, Carol fits into the category of characters from Mamet’s later plays with “very specific political viewpoints [she is] trying to espouse.”

    One of my biggest concerns coming out of watching this is that the subject of sexual harassment and assault will be taken less seriously. It is already a major issue that many incidents of sexual assault are not reported or are disgustingly misinterpreted as lies, and it would be very easy to use “Oleanna” as support for the latter (though Carol would argue otherwise).

  8. In terms of his perspectives towards Gun Control, I don’t agree with Mamet’s politics. I won’t judge his personality or say if I like him or not as a person unless I’m a friend of him or have some face-to-face contacts with him. When it comes to personality, I won’t judge anyone unless I have interpersonal communication with them for long enough time. I don’t believe any secondhand information about one’s personality because all those information that you get from other people, might now apply for you. I think the chemicals reactions between every single individual are unique. I won’t say Mamet is a good or bad person because I read the news about him. In terms of his works, there is no doubt that I like him as a playwright and I think he’s a genius.

    I think art is art, the person is the person. I will never despise a person’s work because of his public image or political stand. I think if one could create works that are able to call for deep thoughts, to educate, or even raise controversy among a large population, that person is a genius. I believe David Mamet is a genius. I believe no one has only a solo side. We are all diversified. In the plays that I have seen, Race and Glengarry Glen Ross, Mamet created a lot of different characters that possess unique characteristics. The varieties of characters that Mamet has created in all his works indicates that he absolutely has diversified, complex personalities.

    As Joy said during Theater J’s final panel last weekend, Mamet has always written plays to express his unhappiness with ways address society’s problems. Everyone has their own sense of the problems in our society, and we all have different point of views towards those problems, so the ways we choose to express our feelings. Mamet chooses his way which is to embody those problems through his writing of plays. Besides, the production processes have certain impacts on his original works at different levels. As Mitchell Hebert said during the panel, the production teams neither want to push what they think was right or wrong to the audiences, but they certainly don’t want to hide it. Even though, the audiences are going to see the play through whatever filtered, through what they bring in into the theater, one can’t control that.

    Another thing mentioned during the panel was about Mamet’s style of suggesting things. Some audiences argued that it’s really hard to understand as at the end of Race, Mamet was never clarified with Susan’s lie, as well as at the end of Glengarry Glen Ross, it’s weird of the last word that Shelly said “My daughter”. For me, I really like these “suggesting” lines. I think through these words or things that were not clarified, we got chances to interpret the show far and beyond the acting.
    I think it is Mr. Mamet’s responsibility to write and provide us with his genius works; but it’s our responsibility to digest, and to face the problems of our digestion products.

    Thank you

  9. Watching the film version of Oleanna I was not quite sure what to expect. I knew the film was about sexual assault between a female student and her professor, but I did not know how the play was set. Similar to how “Race” was a play in which lawyers talked for the entire duration of the play, this play largely just had the professor—John, and Carol—the student who accused him of sexual assault talking about and through the accusation, the reasons why she was making her accusations public, and John trying to convince her not to do it. I have to say that I did not really enjoy viewing this movie. During the final panel discussion of the President’s weekend Race events, one of the panelists, Joy Zingman, brought up the fact that “Oleanna” was one of the few plays in which Mamet gave a woman power. However, she pointed out that Mamet does not like the power that she has. While I did not fully understand this statement when she said it, it became clear when I watched the movie (that Mamet apparently directed) that Mamet did not like Carol to have the power that she did have.

    “Oleanna” made Carol a very unlikeable character in my opinion. As a woman, a college student, and a feminist, I myself had difficulty relating to her and her plight. The sexual assault that she accuses her professor of is ambiguous enough to not be taken as sexual assault—in the movie he grabs her shoulders. After the assault takes place, the majority of scenes take place in John’s office, the place where the sexual assault happened. It seemed odd to have this sexual assault victim willingly continuing to return to the place of her assault—it made her appear untouched by the assault and merely accusing him to deplete John of his power and resources. In the end of the movie, Carol informs him that the status of the assault is being moved up to attempted rape—something that makes Carol seem even more vengeful and non-sincere in her accusations of assault given the fact that we saw only saw John grab her shoulders. While in context, it may be sexual assault, it is hard to imagine this being attempted rape.

    It is at this point that I got a heightened sense of dislike for Carol because her plight appeared extremely far-fetched. However, immediately following this interaction is when I felt the most sympathy for her character. John goes into a rage after she tells him about the changed status of the accusations, and slaps her repeatedly. After pushing her onto the floor, he picks up a chair, ready to strike her with it, but then recedes.

    I find myself struggling with Mamet and his work now—how can one write a play that casts a female sexual assault victim as more of a villain than her male accuser and not be a bit of a misogynist himself? This is a question that I will continue to grapple with as I think about the panel discussion and the question that they proposed—can you separate Mamet’s plays from his politics?

  10. In “Praise or Pillory: The Case For (or against) David Mamet,” Ari proposes questions and initiates discussion as to whether or not his panel believes that Mamet’s “politics” or life relate to his playwriting. I found the first panelist’s comment to be very interesting and a great way to begin the discussion. Ryan said that he believes David Mamet is an “incredible playwright” and that Mamet’s politics cannot be separated from his work. This statement suggests that much of what Mamet writes about is based on reality; this reality could be Mamet’s personal experiences or what he has observed.

    Through research, I discovered some background information on Mamet that supports the argument that his works are connected to his politics or personal life. Mamet often writes about struggles in all forms: class struggles, monetary struggles, and vulnerability are just a few. Mamet was left vulnerable as a child due to his parents’ divorce. In addition, Mamet was surrounded by violence. The Theater Database website quotes Mamet’s sister in describing their childhood, “there was a lot of violence, but the greatest violence was emotional.” This is a heart wrenching statement, and I do believe that Mamet’s difficult and vulnerable childhood is reflected throughout his plays.

    It seems logical that Mamet’s expertise with words, abrupt sentences, and aggressive dialogue all stem from his childhood struggles. The above characteristics of Mamet’s writing irritate some, while intrigue others. For example, one of the panelists, Jennifer, agrees that Mamet is an incredible “wordsmith and manipulator,” even though it bothers her. Through his manipulative word choices and ways, Mamet allows the audience to gain an outsiders perspective by viewing the production from many different angles. Glengarry Glen Ross immediately comes to mind and serves as a perfect example. In this play, the audience is deceived, attacked with dialogue that is provocative, harsh, and intense, and even slightly manipulated, or tricked. All of the above characteristics come into effect when the audience is informed which character stole the leads. Given the dialogue between characters and their interactions, I was sure that the culprit was either Dave Moss or George Aaronow. I was convinced, but I was wrong. At the end of the play the true thief is revealed; the thief turns out to be a man that I never, ever suspected, Mr. Shelly Levene. Even though Jennifer said that Mamet’s ways frustrate her and occasionally anger her, she makes the statement that we do not have to agree with Mamet; his writing is a challenge that we do not have to agree with, but whether you agree or disagree, the “mirror” image he presents to his audience is eye-opening.

  11. It’s tough to argue against David Mamet’s talent. Critically acclaimed, prolific, award-winning – as a 21-year-old college student with mostly exaggerations of the truth filling my resume, it’s tough to criticize a genius.

    I’ll begin by saying that Mamet’s plays captivate the audience, and I’m not immune to the experience. Both productions I’ve seen (Glengarry Glen Ross and Race) possessed insightful and emotive dialogue, profound themes, and entrancing plots. At the end of both, I felt as though all the characters lives and identities had poured out onto the stage for the audience to pick apart. It takes a talented writer to bring characters to life to the degree Mamet does.

    My favorite show is Seinfeld, and though the motto of the show was no hugging no learning – contrary to Mamet’s emotional stories – Mamet’s scripts sometimes remind me of the legendary sitcom. Mamet has the keen ability to illuminate everyday occurrences, situations, and sentiments that might otherwise pass you by. Seinfeld was all about the little things in life, and though I wish I had a good example to give (I have none right now, but take my word for it his scripts contain many of these references), it’s clear just watching one scene of Mamet’s play that he’s taken the time to closely scrutinize the daily minutiae of life. It’s a talent that is underappreciated, but it’s a talent that immensely enhances any production.

    These observations that Mamet inserts into his scripts are partially why I find them so realistic. I absolutely love any entertainment that makes me think introspectively, and realistic entertainment galvanizes me to do just that. It’s tough to pin down just why his scripts are so true to life. It just seems like every time a character opens his mouth, his words seem effortless; the characters don’t seem out of place or out of touch.

    The only downside to Mamet that I must comment on is the rapid-fire style of his plays. Perhaps that’s just the director’s choice, but I get that feeling that I’m watching something written by Aaron Sorkin. I like Sorkin, but it’s a little annoying to listen to people talk so quickly, and it takes away from the realism I was just praising.

    Overall, I’m thrilled to have been exposed to Mamet.

  12. I wanted to start commenting right away on the “introduction” and the quote, “goodness and badness are terms of aesthetic merit to which morality does not apply”. As the speaker and Karinne point out, this is definitely not true. Almost by definition, art is a matter of interpretation; a matter of opinion. It is ridiculous to separate the ideas of an artist and his work because the two overlap on a most basic level. An artist’s work is his interpretation of what he sees or is inspired by. If you go in blind, without background of the artist to view a work of art, you may be able to interpret it without the artists’ biases, but you also can’t appreciate the meaning behind it as deeply. Why? Because it’s a reflection of the artist’s experiences and beliefs, and you can’t remove that from the artwork. The question posed regarding the influence of “Mamet” on his art is, in my opinion, a very clear cut question. There’s obviously some relationship.

    I liked Mitchell Hébert’s insight regarding his all female cast of Glengarry Glen Ross. It was very interesting to hear him discuss his background and how this impacted his perception of Mamet’s plays (English not being his first language and his trouble in understanding the rhythm of the language that Mamet used). His description of whether or not the same words would sound as “organic” or “flowing” coming from a female mouth. It was definitely interesting to hear his comments regarding the feedback – “I forgot they were women”, and his little surprise that he had seven men come out and take the bow instead of the cast. His little quip about the pay inequality definitely struck something with me, as that was one of my paper topics back in high school! But going back to the fact that the audience said that the last action was unnecessary because they “forgot they were women” is food for thought regarding how it reflects upon our society today.

  13. I chose to watch the 1992 film version of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. I found the majority of the dialogue in the play and in the film to be very similar. The actors in both the film and theater productions delivered their lines forcefully and intensely. One major difference between the film and the play was the actors cast for the specific roles. The film has an all white male cast, whereas the cast in the play was an all male cast with one African American man. In class we discussed whether or not a character, traditionally played by a white male, was at all significant or made any difference because a black male in the theater version played that same role. To me, the answer is no. It appears that both the white and black actors playing John Williamson uphold the qualities and mannerisms that that particular character is to have. The color of the character’s skin, in my mind, does not make a significant difference in the interpretation of the play.

    Another difference between the two versions of Glengarry Glen Ross is the scenery. Although the production we saw in Bethesda did have a plethora of scenery and props (especially compared to the other plays we have seen), I think that the effects, scenery, noises, and props in the film are much, much stronger. Obviously it is impossible to reproduce everything in the theater that occurs on the screen, but I think that films have a great advantage in this area. As a result, the film was much more intriguing and held my attention more than the theater production did.

    Lastly, I would like to comment on the two versions of Mr. Shelly Levene. In the film, Jack Lemmon plays Levene. From what I observed, the Shelly Levene in the film version has generally the same mannerisms and characteristics as the Shelly Levene in the theater production. The character still seems needy, slightly cowardly, especially when he is engaging in arguments or being yelled at by a coworker.

    It was very interesting to see the similarities and differences between the same production on film and in person. Overall, I feel as though each version of Glengarry Glen Ross followed the script relatively closely, therefore causing many similarities between productions.

  14. After seeing both Race and Glengarry Glen Ross, I felt that I had gained some perspective and insight at to why David Mamet is known as such a controversial playwright. The language in his plays was extremely vulgar, the themes were quarrelsome, and the overall affect was provocative to say the least. So what does this say about David Mamet and his writing?

    Something that Joy Zinoman said seemed potentially very accurate. She said that maybe David Mamet writes his plays to express his unhappiness with occurrences in society. That would definitely make some sense. In frustration with problems Mamet witnessed/experienced/felt related to racism, perhaps he decided to write the play Race. According to Ryan Rilette, when touching on such a deeply intense subject such as race, Mamet uses language for the characters in his plays to take power. I feel like it would be hard to talk about race and make a legitimate point by using fluffy and sugared words. Rather, he used obscene language to empower his characters and convey his message to his audience.

    In words of Jennifer Nelson, Mamet pulls the conversation from “behind the curtain” to out front on center stage. Conversations about topics like race typically occur in hushed voices… So rather than allow that to go on, Mamet puts them in the spotlight. It may not be pretty, but his method works. People really TALK or at least THINK after seeing Mamet’s shows. How could they not? Sure, it can be awkward, but with the comedic aspects added to his plays, Mamet forces us to delve into these topics in a way that isn’t too uncomfortable.

    I must say, I am “pro”- David Mamet. I think he works to bring our attention to where he thinks it needs to be. Whether you agree with how he does it or not, you must admit that it works. Sometimes, people need a little anger to inspire passionate conversations that wouldn’t be held otherwise. After seeing two David Mamet plays, I look forward to more in my future.

  15. I would like to compare the Glengarry Glen Ross in play and in movie.

    The length of the movie allows more flexibility of shaping the characters, tells more stories about the background. I think those characters’ personalities are more diversified in the movie than those in play. For instance, to me, the George in the movie was not that emotional in the play, and the movie George seems to have more traits than the one in the play.

    Some additional scenes were added in the movie. One of them was about a top man, who was as successful as a hero, came into the office and spoke to everyone in a very serious tone. At the beginning, they didn’t pay attentions and Rick was even pulling a coffee for himself. “Put you coffee down”, spoke by the man who showed a lot of power. He explained to everyone how important it was to EARN money despise of every other things. He told them the third prize is YOU’RE FIRED. I think this scene was meant to show their anxieties from life and work as well as showed how difficult these men’s lives were, and was functioning as a background of the office competition. Compare to the play, the adding of this scene in the movie makes more sense to me because for the first 20 minutes when I watched the play, I couldn’t be able to get the general ideas of the story background until I saw they were sitting in the same office, I then knew that they were colleagues.

    Technically, the movie allowed actors to speak much more slowly, and fully extend their personalities through all possible ways: their tones, their paces, their minor facial expressions…
    However, to me, the enlarging of their traits limited my imaginations in certain ways. As I said in my previous blog, I prefer Mamet’s “suggesting” style, which allows me more room to think and digest on my own. However, the details that were showed in the movie, compares to the play, limited my imaginations a bit.

    Another thing I found interesting when watching the movie is the issue about race. In the movie, all characters are Whites. But in the play, the office manager John was played by African American actor Kenyatta Rogers. I found myself may be a little bit racism: when I watched the play, I felt the character of John had less power even he was in control of the office; and even when he was about to told the truth of Rick was the theft at last, he’s still “weak”; however, in the movie, I didn’t find John was as “weak” as he’s in the play. I am not sure it was because of the ways they portrait him were different, or it’s because of I was seeing it through their different skin colors.

    In general, I prefer the play than movie because I felt more nervous when I was watching the play and I enjoyed more of being in the theater and hear their own voices, which were presented much stronger and emotional than in the movies.

    Thank you

  16. The movie version of Glengarry Glen Ross and the play are actually quite different. There were pieces of both I enjoyed and disliked.

    Al Pacino plays Roma in the film, and it’s a surreal performance. The audience doesn’t quite understand what he’s doing talking to some guy in the bar, and slowly Roma pulls the unsuspecting target in until he positions himself for the kill, or the sale. His monologue in the beginning of the film is amazing. It’s tough to live up to a Pacino performance, and I’d say the actor we saw did his best of course, but I just didn’t get the goosebumps on my skin watching him on stage as I did seeing Pacino parallel a tormented and talented salesman. I also think Pacino’s lines in the film were a little better than in the script.

    I also enjoyed the way the movie switched around the plot. Rather than shift into the office early, as was the case with the play, at least the first half of the film was set at the Chinese restaurant. I felt this made the robbery more of a shock, but I also felt it rushed the ending.

    The whole office portion of the play was masterful, and I thought it was a little better than the film.

    The themes of the two were similar – of course it would be strange to change the theme for an adaptation, especially one that so closely follows the original.

    It was interesting to see a Mamet play on the silver screen. I feel like Mamet is at home on the stage, but regardless, the play and the film were both a joy to experience. I look forward to watching another Mamet film as soon as I can – I guess that’s what the summer will be for.

  17. When we were speaking in class about the two Mamet plays we had viewed, I wanted to say that I enjoyed and appreciated Glengarry Glen Ross a lot more than Race, but I did not simply because I could not articulate a reason why in my mind. I found Race to be much more forward and blunt in presenting the message it was trying to deliver, which I did not enjoy as much. Then again, that’s what I had expected; what else could a play called Race be about? So I felt like my preference of GGGR over Race went deeper than that. While watching the panel discussion, though, I found that KenYatta expressed my feelings in a way much better than I could. He feels that in Mamet’s earlier works, he was curious about people and hadn’t made up his mind yet. People of any race or background could connect with his characters, and it was this writing with curiosity in mind that allowed for so many variations in casting, such as an African-American man as Willamson, an Indian-American as Roma, or even an all female cast. Once he began to figure out his political views and beliefs about people, this sense of curiosity vanished from his plays. I completely agree with this view, as while GGGR felt to me more like a story filled with real emotion and feeling, Race felt much more like a lecture about what Mamet believes and wants us to believe too.

    Back to Ryan Rilette’s question about whether liking or disliking Mamet as a person and agreeing or disagreeing with his political views affect his work as a playwright. Had you asked me this prior to listening to the panel discussion, I would have said that my opinions about him have no effect on his work. I probably don’t see eye to eye with a lot of my favorite authors or musicians, but that doesn’t affect the greatness of their works in my mind. After the discussion, though, I feel I need to add something; an artist’s political views have no effect on the greatness of their work as long as the work truly is a great one. For example, while the themes of the films are extremely bigoted and hateful, Triumph of the Will and The Birth of a Nation use spectacular cinematography to spread their horrible messages. This is a big reason why those films are still well known today. But if an artist’s works lose the profound ability to captivate and amaze, as Peter Marks suggests of Mamet’s newer plays, then it becomes more difficult to accept views it contains contrary to your own. I can’t say that Race is a bad play, it did premier on Broadway after all, but the fact that it did not impress me anywhere near as much as GGGR added with its preachy nature didn’t do anything for me. While I do agree that race is still a topic that needs to be discussed in America, I don’t think Mamet’s Race is necessarily the way to do it.

  18. After seeing two Mamet plays and viewing this panel discussion, I am going to have to make a case for Mamet. Although I don’t usually agree with the use of vulgarity as wit, I believe Mamet is accomplishing something extremely moving and artistic in his work. Could he have done it with a few less four-letter words….yes, of course. But his frantic cursing and misogynistic tendencies should not discount the beautiful, poetic literature that he writes.

    As Mr. Rilette pointed out, Mamet is a genius–he’s won many distinguished awards and has had numerous of his plays on broadway. I agree with one of Rilette’s main points: you can’t compare Mamet being a good or bad person with the quality of his work. It is two different kinds of goodness. Addressing if Mamet is a good person or not is contemplating Mamet’s morality. Determining if Mamet writes good plays is based on aesthetics–no morality is involved. Therefore, Mamet can in fact be a crappy person while still being a brilliant playwright.

    Ms. Nelson pointed out that Mamet frustrated her because he manipulates the audience into seeing things in different perspectives. I was absolutely shocked that she found this to be a negative thing. Who would ever want to go to a play, read a book, or watch a movie and be able to guess the entire plot of the story–no one! Mamet is a fantastic manipulator. He uses more than just words to display emotion and sometimes it’s more about what his characters don’t say rather than what they do say.

    Mr. Rogers was another panelist I found insightful. I liked what he said about the driving force of Mamet’s curiosity in his work. He said that Mamet’s plays exploit his curiosities and allow the audience to step into the story and fill it with who they are as a person–it’s about who you are, how you react to it, and how it makes you feel. Mamet uses language as his weapon and Mamet uses this weapon to exploit truths and expose unpleasant topics.

    So why does Mamet have so many haters? It is because he makes us uncomfortable. BUT, this is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it is a wonderful opportunity for us to discuss sensitive topics like race, gender, and sexuality in a non-hostile environment. Mamet puts it out there for us to see. It is up to us to notice it and interact with it, and then to respond. Although Mamet’s characters use aggressive language, most of them are not physically violent. He is pushing the boundaries of social norms. Recognizing your uneasiness is all part of the Mamet experience: you are seeing real human beings effect each other onstage. Real people, real talk, real time.

    Therefore, Mamet is a brilliant ARTIST. He is not a politician and whether or not you agree with his political views or if you think he is a good person or not is completely irrelevant to this argument. He is a poetic genius. Would I want to hang out with him or have a conversation over coffee with him? Probably not.

  19. In the panel discussion, Mr. Rilette pointed out that, throughout history, there have been horrible people who have been great artists. This really got me thinking as I wondered if it was possible to separate David Mamet’s character and his work.

    And I think it is possible. I think that it is appropriate to appreciate an artist’s work for what it is without tying it to the character of the artist. As Mr. Rilette mentioned early in the panel discussion, Mamet is undeniably a genius as a playwright. I agree with him. Even though I dislike the overuse of vulgar language in his plays, I appreciate his originality and creativity.

    I also feel that Mamet chooses to engage his audience by taking us out of our comfort zone, and it is a bold move. He attempts to expose the audience to sensitive topics like race and gender discrimination and allows us to have a discussion about it. In a way, I think Mamet utilizes these plays as a way of highlighting the problems of American society. Through these plays, we can reflect and address these issues with a more positive outlook.

  20. To me, it is difficult to take the person out of their art. Everyone has their biases and reasons for the way that they feel. One’s perceptions of the world shape their outputs. For example, my perceptions of the American education system are based on my experience going from a public primary school to a private high school and onto a large public University. Whenever I am at my internships, my class, or discussions about education, I bring my “politics” into the argument in order to advocate for what I deem as right. However, my politics does not inhibit my abilities to think outside of myself, as it is important to be able to think outside of one’s thoughts and biases in order to relate to others and understand society at large.
    That is what I believe Mamet has been trying to do in his works. Although he is conservative, he still has the ability as an artist to address controversial issues like race with a style that everyone can appreciate. So for me, the argument of whether Mamet’s plays should be praised or criticized due to his personal politics is really up to one’s interpretation of his intentions. One can feel that Mamet is manipulating, as Jennifer Nelson expressed in the forum, or they can feel that he is challenging us to confront our own perceptions of humanity through what some have called unrealistic portrayals of characters.
    What I will criticize Mamet about, which was mentioned in the forum and some of the reviews was how he portrays his female characters. Race was a prime example. Susan, although understood as intelligent, was sneaky and had secrets that caused her to have to lie on her application. She is also presumed to have gotten to where she is because Jack feels guilt as a white male and hires her out of fear that she would sue. Henry would say that she let her color jump her intelligence. The way that Susan’s intelligence and integrity were challenged added to the drama of the play and the conversation about the intersections of race and gender, but it was overly critical in areas that I feel could have been spent on talking about Charles issues, or even Jack and Henry’s. Also, the woman that Charles is accused of raping doesn’t make an appearance or even have a voice in the play. I felt that was a big part missing that Mamet could have provided in his play to provide a balanced perspective on race.

  21. Curious to discover more about Mamet, I decided to watch the flim version of his play “Oleanna.” Despite my best efforts, the movie decided to repeatedly freeze at the same spot about 15 minutes in, and I was not able to watch the rest of the film. It was very frustrating, so I switched to watching the movie version of “Glengarry Glen Ross.” But before I start reflecting on the Glengarry movie, I want to share my thoughts on the 15 minutes of Oleanna that I did see.

    From the start, Mamet’s signiture writing style was extremely apparent. The characters were constantly interrupting each other and the female college student never seemed to get more than a few words out at a time. I found this extremely annoying–more so than I did in viewing Race or Glengarry Glen Ross in theater. I don’t know if it was just bad acting, or if that was how it was supposed to be, but I really did not like the flow of the characters’ conversation. When Mamet writes, he knows exactly what he wants his characters to say and how he wants them to sound. Something I noticed when watching Oleanna was the difficulty for other people to pick up on Mamet’s intentions. I don’t know if anyone will truly ever be able to perform exactly what Mamet has in his head, because I thought the opening scene of Oleana was low quality at best. I should note that I still appreciate Mamet’s writing style, and anyone’s effort to try and act it out.

    I was able to watch the entire Glengarry Glen Ross movie, and found quite a few differences between the movie and play version. First, the entire opening scene is different. They start the play about 10-15 minutes into the movie, in the Chinese restaurant with a meeting between Shelly & Mr. Williamson. In the movie, this confrontation occurs in the office, not the restaurant. Also, Alec Baldwin’s character is non-existent in the play. He is a fictional, omni-present character in the play; he is simply a talked about person, although a very important character. I thought Alec Baldwin’s character was needed for the film to be successful–it took away from some of the confusion of the play and brings in a concrete representation of Mitch & Murray. Another difference I noted was that there was significantly less swearing in the movie version–probably due to regulation. I also noticed that Shelly was portrayed as a lot more desperate in the movie. We hear about how his daughter is in the hospital and that she needs money and he is constantly talking to his wife about money. We never hear this in the play–so when we find out Shelly is the one who actually robbed the office, it is much more shocking.

    Other than those slight differences, I found it still very similar to the play version, sans some vulgarity, which I did not mind.

    Happy to report, I am still a Mamet fan…well, at least of his writing, maybe not some actors’ interpretations of his writing.

  22. Melissa Correia

    After watching “To Praise of Pillory: The Case For (or against) David Mamet,” I was a bit surprised at Joy Zinoman’s description of Mamet as reductionist, and no longer interested in complexity. Zinoman seems to be suggesting that Mamet has given up on creating polemics, and that his language and narrative are too predictable and structured as to prevent his audience from interacting with the play in a meaningful way. Although all of the panelists seem to credit Glengarry Glen Ross as a genius script and production, and Javier Rivera described the play as a “time capsule of the current economic state,” Zinoman as well as her co-panelist Hebert denounced Mamet’s ability to produce dynamic plays after Glenngarry Glen Ross, and seemed to suggest that Mamet’s political opinions may be the cause of this disappointment.
    I think that what Mamet produced in Glengarry Glen Ross was a production that encapsulated a great deal of social and political diversity, because of the e framework variety of characters and the confluence of opinions which were involved in running the fictitious business in the play. The play was appealing and evocative not only because of the realistic representation of the characters involved in economic turmoil, but also because the diversity and honest of these characters communicated with audiences in a way that was novel, shocking in its language and potentially eruptive in its polemics. The central take away for me form the panel was that Mamet allowed his personal politics to impact the presentation of his characters by presenting his characters in such a limited and inflexible framework via the language and denouement of the plot. Mamet’s “Race” for example, which received mixed reviews even at the panel, seemed even to me, to lack the honesty that is present in Glengarry Glen Ross.
    The main aspect of “Race” which lacked this level of honesty and complexity was the plot of the play, in which as Zinoman rightly pointed out, there was no element of surprise or unpredictability. All of these elements were removed from “Race” and substituted with uncertainty, which was not resolved by the end of the play. These elements were removed so that the harsh facts of race and sex, interwoven in a compelling narrative, could be served to the audience as harshly as possible in keeping with Mamet’s staunch and rather aggressive political outlook. Perhaps these aspects have made Mamet less enjoyable as a playwright over time, to an audience that appreciates a play which respectfully presents a polemic that does not endorse a particular opinion, but allows the audience the space and room to form their own within the framework of a sufficiently complex plot and the balanced development of characterization.

  23. I thought the panel discussion was very enlightening. It was really good to listen to what artists and directors working on the production thought of the themes we have been discussing. However, I was specifically intrigued by the comments made by Janet Nelson and Ryan Rilette regarding the misogyny that is supposedly laced throughout Mamet’s work. Janet spoke a bit about how women nowadays are in a position of combat but we have not even scratched the surface of the interpretation of women as a force of culture. Additionally, Ryan Rilette spoke about how women in Mamet’s plays serve a similar function in each play and how women do not generally have much power.

    Although I am not a misogynist (not the greatest way to start a sentence…), I do have to say that I can understand Mamet’s choice (or is it a choice?) to not necessarily put female characters in a position of power. I think it serves a purpose to subtly highlight another social issue that requires our societal attention. While other social topics such as race are seen as complex, uncomfortable to discuss, and somewhat “unresolved”, I think that there is a big assumption in our culture that the topic of gender equality is somewhat “resolved” and, therefore, passed over. This may be just my opinion, but I feel that there is a somewhat passive sexist mentality that prevails over our culture, which is left unaddressed. While we instate gender equality laws, have gender-integrated schools, and seemingly (on the surface) have a gender-equal society, there seems to always be this tension that is often overlooked. I believe that our culture socially accepts sexist jokes and do not even see the topic of gender INequality as a major issue. Due to this reason, we are able to address the issue as a topic of humor and overlook its severity. It makes me wonder what is actually worse, acknowledging that there is an issue (such as race) which might make us uncomfortable or not even acknowledging an issue that exists and is socially mocked (like sexism)?

  24. Melissa Correia

    After watching the 1994 film production of Oleanna, directed by Mamet, and having read the script, I was disappointed by the lack in clarity of the dialogue, and the awkwardness of the scene transitions. Although I have not seen Oleanna on stage, I suspect that the on stage production of the play is much better than the film, and that perhaps the play does not translate well on film.
    Although the film presentation of the play was disappointing, I found myself sympathizing with the Professor who I felt was misled by the student, although the student’s deception of the Professor was intended to highlight the deception of the college education system in the United States upon its students, as well as the incidence of sexual exploitation in positions of power. However I am critical of mixing these deceptions, and therefore I am critical of Mamet’s Oleanna and of the messages that his play is communicating, and how these messages are being communicated.
    Oleanna suggests that the balance of power is not always as it seems. While throughout the play the Professor seems to hold all of the power, and presents the power which his institution holds, the play suggests that like “Race” those in positions of lesser power are secretly plotting against the established institutions and against those who are in positions of authority or who hold power. It is notable that although the play deals with sexual misconduct, the figures that threaten the professional and personal dominance of the Professor are both women: the student and the Professor’s wife. Is Mamet suggesting that women are using their sexuality to undermine the positions of men in power to which they are perhaps irrationally biased, and as such that men in positions of power should be wary of trusting women?
    Mamet does not go as far as to communicate this message, but he does imply that where power is concerned, much like “Race” people use their competitive advantages to outdo each other and to gain or re-gain control, even if it involves deceit, and coercion. The denouncement of the student as a ‘cunt’ at the end of the play, highlights the bias of the play towards men, and the bitterness of dominant males in society towards the gains made by progressive females who use their feminine guile to their advantage.

  25. The question of whether not a viewer, or even Mamet himself, can separate his politics from his writing came up in class last Thursday. After viewing the Vimeo of Theater J’s “Race in America” Panel from the weekend event February 16 through 17. I gained some insight on the question brought up in class. My initial reaction was, yes, viewers can separate the writer’s political views from the play. When I was watching “Race” and “Glengarry Glen Ross” I wasn’t thinking about Mamet’s political views, but now I realize that’s because I didn’t know them. Ignorance is bliss, as they say, and I was unaware that Mamet is a conservative, who apparently write op-eds about gun control and how President Obama’s kids have weapons protecting them, so every other family should too. Wow. Now knowing this, I look back at “Race” and can’t help wonder if he was just trying to be offensive. I had also never thought much about the misogynistic qualities of the two works we saw. Jennifer, an African-American woman on the panel, mentioned that this quality was her least favorite part about Mamet. The character Susan in “Race” was treated poorly, by both her white and black counterparts; and in “Glengarry Glen Ross” there were no women, but when the men spoke of them it wasn’t in a great manner (i.e. the scene when Roma and Lingk are talking at the restaurant). The panel also spoke about how there is a defined difference between Mamet’s old work and his more recent material. There was some consensus that his current work exudes political messages much more blatantly than previous work. Funny hearing that, since I had thought to myself and, I think, mentioned in class, that I felt “Race” was screaming in my face some bold statement, whereas I felt “Glengarry” was just a story about some desperate men trying to make it the business world.

    • For my extra Mamet viewing I decided to watch the film adaptation of Glengarry Glen Ross. Filmed in 1992, this film starred some great leading men including Al Pacino as Ricky Roma, Alan Arkin as George Aaronow, Jack Lemmon as Shelley Levene, Ed Harris as Dave Moss, Kevin Spacey as John Williamson, Jonathan Pryce as James Lingk and Alec Baldwin as a new character named Blake. What a cast. Overall the movie was extremely similar to the play. Throughout, multiple parts the dialogue is identical, even the two c-words—which I wasn’t expecting because it was a feature film. Alec Baldwin’s character, Blake, was a great addition in my opinion. It put some tangibility to the Mitch and Morris characters, whom we never actually meet. He comes to the office and explains to the salesmen a new sales system and announces that the top salesman will win a Cadillac. This character and this scene helps me understand the extreme actions of the characters. Blake is insulting and motivating at the same time and I think this added character in the movie makes the language and actions seems more plausible. It was great seeing Al Pacino, but he was an older Roma than the production we saw—which I found kind of creepy. The scene in the restaurant when he is talking to Lingk seemed more creepy than arrogant like it had seemed at the Roundhouse Theater. I preferred a younger Roma. I was really shocked because the Levene in the movie kind of sounded and looked just like Rick Foucheux. I feel like normally I would prefer the film version of a story, but I must say that they are pretty equal in my opinion. It’s always nice to see the real scenery in film, but the sets in the production of “Glengarry” at Roundhouse Theater are so great, it is pretty much just as realistic to watch on stage as on film.

  26. To Praise or Pillory: The Case for (or against) David Mamet. The discussion was refreshing to hear a diversity of options from the well respected panel. Having carefully listened to the discussion, I believe there is no question that David Mamet is an unbelievable play right, whose success is undeniable. That said KenYatta Rogers, the terrific actor we witnessed in the performance of Mamet’s play Glen Gerry Glen Gross, statements really hit home with me. Rogers talks about how in the play Race, another Mamet production we had the pressure of viewing, and in other earlier production all characters have a voice people Mamet had not made up his mind yet about how people are. In the words of KenYatta, he still was curious. Kenyatta goes on to discuss how in play Race sex is the weakest card. Mamet writes that sex, which Kenyatta substitutes with race can be thrown on the mattress. Kenyatta says, “Mamet is throwing huge things on the mattress that we need time to be curious about.” Agree with Kenyatta whole heartedly. I feel that in Mamet’s later production he has become ridged in his views of the world and begin to impress those views upon the audience, instead of drawing them into a conversation as he did earlier in his career. He has forgotten that his audience moves at difference speed and we are not all ready to be “thrown on the mattress.” I find Mamet more effective, when he encourages his audience to participate in the discussion instead of dictating his views of the world to them. While I completely enjoyed both of his plays that we have seen, I not sure if all audience member are ready for his brash tactics.

  27. Jamesa Johnson

    To Praise or Pillory: The Case for (or against) David Mamet was a interesting set of perspectives. I didn’t completely agree with any one of the panelists who spoke but there were some points at which I could understand why they felt the way they did.

    One point that I thought was insightful was that there is a difference between universal and topical. I think what Joy Zinoman was expressing was a question of how deep is what Mamet is doing? How much is he challenging the audience beyond familiarity to reality? I think her calling in to question which one of these Mamet is doing is understandable when thinking about how popular his plays are. On the other hand I did not see why she felt that Glengarry Glenn Ross accomplished universality better than Race. I saw Race as having multiple layers of universality when considering the gender dynamics, the characters that had such great elements of humaness and the minority/majority dynamics which are present in most any society. I did not see how Glengarry Glen Ross was less topical, nor how Glengarry Glen Ross did a better job at not just preaching a message to the audience (which it did) but is not overly manipulative. Nevertheless I think that my ability to see those things had a lot to do with the lens with which i was viewing the plays; one as a woman, a young person, a black woman for that matter. So think identity has a lot to do with what we take away and if these works are our reality or just familiar.

    • Jamesa Johnson

      In the play Oleanna I found that the character Carol was quite intriguing. I could see some of the claims that Joy Zinoman made in the Panel, to Praise or Pillary coming to life. That there was what one could interpret as misogyny in his works when women had the power in the situations dealt with by the characters. In this case her power comes as she accuses a man of rape because of a gesture she “interprets” as suggestive. I think in its essence brings a very negative light to a woman with power and what she will do with it. He answers this question with deviousness. Allegedly, “using” her body to condemn this professor who is dismissive and condescending. I hated this aspect of the storyline, the demonization of this woman, which seems to be a bit of a pattern in his work.

      Nevertheless I could see why he makes such decisions to make both characters so flawed. To prove this inability of man and woman to communication with nor understand each other. I see why this decision is made artistically. Humanity’s issues with sexual assault are complex and real and sadly often end in victims being discredited and blamed. So in this case where he hints that this woman may not have been raped (as he does in Race), I become really conflicted as what his intentions are. Why is he putting women in this position? Characterizing them like this? Making the women just a bit more loath-able than the other characters? I, like Joy Zinoman, really don’t want to believe that his work is misogynistic but I haven’t experienced anything different. I’ll bear this in mind going forward as I continue to explore his work.

  28. Mark Greer II

    I decided to watch David Mamet’s “The Untouchables”. The film is about prohibition in Chicago and Al Capone’s operation, which Chicago police, particularly Special Agent Elliot Ness, would want to shut down. I wanted to watch the film because out of the two plays that I have seen by Mamet, I thought that it would be interesting to look for some elements of what I understand about Mamet’s work in a gangster film. The film itself is very entertaining if one enjoys action, drama, and slick dialog as I do. But I did find a few lines that I felt speak to Mamet’s desire to challenge us to think of the complexity of humanity.
    I particularly paid attention to the evolution of Elliot Ness. As an officer, he declares that he wants to do anything within the law to get Capone. However after much provocation and threats, Malone asks, “what are you prepared to do?” During this scene, Ness responds again with anything within the law. Malone then asked what he was prepared to do beyond that, and states “You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way!”. Ness is still hesitant but eventually in another scene he changes his mind and declares, “I wanna hurt the man, Malone. You hear me? I wanna start taking the battle to him. I wanna hurt Capone”.
    The complexity of Ness’ character speaks to imperfections of humanity. What is the right thing to do and if one is seeking to do the right thing, are they willing to do the wrong thing? For Ness, killing Capone’s guards and other workers was not in his moral code. But because he wanted to do the “right thing” and protect and serve, he had to do whatever it took to try and take down the operation. I believe that Mamet took the opportunity to show this complexity in the film as opposed to showing a character that knew all the answers from the beginning. I think that this film was an opportunity for Mamet to reach a broader audience that may not consider going to one of his plays but would appreciate the themes that he invokes in his works.