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David Mamet Biography

(1947– ), Duck Variations, The Poet and the Rent, Squirrels, Reunion, American Buffalo

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Madras House to Harriet Martineau Biography

American dramatist, born in Flossmore, Illinois, educated at Goddard College, Vermont. Mamet moved to Chicago and helped found the St Nicholas Theatre Company which subsequently staged the first productions of many of his early plays including Duck Variations (1972), The Poet and the Rent (1974), Squirrels (1974), and Reunion (1976). From the mid-1970s Mamet developed a close relationship with the Goodman Theater in Chicago, where American Buffalo was first produced in 1975, followed by A Life in the Theater (1977), The Woods (1977), and Lone Canoe, or The Explorer (1979). Mamet's involvement with the Chicago theatres has meant that his work is often premièred in that city before opening in New York. He is a tirelessly productive writer who has written a great many full-length plays and short plays, several screenplays and adaptations, and a collection of essays entitled Writing in Restaurants (1986). His best-known plays are Sexual Perversity in Chicago (1974), American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross (1983; Pulitzer Prize), which was made into a film, and Speed the Plow (1988). Mamet has also written the screenplays for Bob Rafelson's remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Sidney Lumet's The Verdict, and Brian De Palma's The Untouchables. More recently, in House of Games (1987), Things Change (1987), and Homicide (1990), Mamet has become director of his own screenplays, and has quickly developed a reputation as a talented film-maker. Mamet uses speech as a means to anatomize the discontents of the American psyche, especially in relation to the conflicts of desire between men and women, and the unrealizeable dreams of success which animate Americans in their workaday world. His characters are endowed with a vituperative rhetoric which is not unlike John Osborne's theatrical idiom. Mamet, who has also been compared with Harold Pinter, acknowledges a deep respect for Chekhov, not only in the way in which the Russian master uses language as a mode of revelation to and through his characters, but also in his consummate stagecraft. And like Chekhov and Pinter, Mamet is very much a man of the theatre and with Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, and Sam Shepard, is one of the luminaries of the contemporary American theatre. A more recent play, Oleana (1992), is a controversial drama where issues of gender politics and linguistic hierarchy are crystallized in the charged tutorial encounter between a male professor and one of his female students. Though seen by many as a topical and misogynist diatribe against the agenda of contemporary feminism, the play's wider concern with the use and abuse of power gives it an interest beyond the anxieties of present-day sexual politics. The Cryptogram (1994), by contrast, is a short, intense family drama of betrayal and duplicity featuring an abandoned wife and young son; the play has invoked comparisons with Pinter in Mamet's investigation of the uses we make of language to deceive others and ourselves, especially within the bedrock of family life. David Mamet (1985) by C. W. E. Bigsby is a critical study.

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