Women on Mamet: The Case for and Against

Mamet is controversial, there is no denying that. His work in theater, film and non-fiction has lead to arguments and discussions over the many years of his career. We are planning to continue these discussions, and maybe the arguments as well, during our Artistic Director’s Roundtable Series.

The first of these discussions this weekend is personally the most exciting for me. The discussion brings together talented and smart women to discuss Mamet.  The panel includes Danielle Mages Amato, Literary Manager at The Studio Theatre, Jacqueline Lawton, playwright and dramaturg whose work has been produced by our 5×5 series, Kathleen Akerley, director, writer (another 5×5 playwright) producer and actress, and Rahaleh Nassri, director and actress who appeared in The Disputation and  Hannah and Martin.

These are all women whose work I admire and I look forward to being on a stage with them discussing Mamet. The idea for this panel came from my own mixed views on his theatrical work and his other writings. I do think he’s very talented but there is something in his work that upsets me, a cockiness that I find unappealing, and yet I think Speed-the-Plow is a great play, funny and written with a great musicality. 

While doing research on the play I came across an article written for the Center Stage Next Stage Guide from their production a couple of years back.  In it, then Literary Manager, Madeleine Oldham talks about her own love/hate relationship with Mamet:

… Mamet exposes my inner hypocrite. His writing and its macho showmanship is the literary equivalent of the boy from the wrong side of the tracks: treating people like dirt in public, but maddeningly irresistible in private. I want to denounce him—cry foul and run for the hills, so I do. I scowl at the mention of his name, following that with insults intended to create a believable sense of venom toward the man and his work. I get all blustery and self righteous…But I don’t mean it. I do all this in order to hide the fact that I have a secret crush on him…
Narcissistic though it is, I resent the fact that I can’t find myself in his plays. I do not enjoy feeling left out. One of the supreme joys of the theater is the recognition and reflection of one’s own experience, helping to fulfill a basic human need to know one is not alone in the world. I go to the theater hungry for this. Mamet doesn’t give it to me. He writes what he writes and if I don’t like it, tough. That kind of unrepentant authenticity carries with it something magnetic.

You can read the full essay here.The other part of this conversation is Mamet’s writing of women.  His work is frequently called misogynistic and almost always focuses on the men. The women who do appear in his work are usually underwritten or at least not as completely realized as his male characters.  An article on Mamet’s women published in The New York Times in the early 90s is available online. While going through many of his plays it touches on Speed-the-Plow:

Take Karen, the temporary secretary in “Speed-the-Plow,” Mr. Mamet’s brilliant 1988 drama excoriating Hollywood and its citizenry. Incompetent and naive as she appears, she may well be an incipient wheeler-dealer who simply hasn’t acquired experience enough to compete with Bobby Gould and Charlie Fox … It’s her ambiguity that is new. …  She is either a saint or she isn’t. She either has a noble cause or she doesn’t. You decide.

This ambiguity allows people to see different things in the script. And will I’m sure create a lively discussion this Sunday.