Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mamet On Tennessee Williams (Mamet)

I haven't seen too much commentary on David Mamet's weird column about Tennessee Williams' Night of the Iguana for the Guardian. Though it contains some useful nuggets, overall it seems a bizarre fragment. I finished the column and found I was looking in vain for a hyperlink to page 2.

Mamet wants to make the idea of "poetry" in drama his target, but he really seems to be touching on several of the issues that have been flying about the blogoshere the last few months about regional theatres doing plays that seem enshrined in the canon, but that are really not very good. I call the phenomenon Regionalitis. In a post this fall I defined Regionalitis this way:

"Regionalitis is the peculiar malady suffered by mediocre efforts of excellent playwrights. Usually regionalitis is caused by the continued and incessant performing of a play by regional and smaller theatres, having the interesting effect of perpetuating a undeserved reputation of greatness while at
the same time building up an incredible expectation of the casts and directors."

While in-house dramaturgy and inflexible subscribers were implicated in my diagnosis, Mamet seems to be taking aim at other targets:

"the educationally overburdened - that is, academics and drama critics. These have given us the beatification of Tennessee Williams, among others;..."

It is with this statement only that I take issue with Mamet's column. I mean, who can really argue with the rest of the points he makes.

"in a good play, the character's intentions are conveyed to the actor, through him to his antagonist, and through them, to the audience, through the words he speaks. Any dialogue that is not calculated to advance the intentions of the character (in the case of Othello, for instance, to find out if his wife is cheating on him) is pointless."

or this

"It is my contention that drama is essentially a poetic form - that the dramatic line should be written to convince primarily through its rhyme and rhythm and only secondarily, if at all, through an appeal to reason. Note that the truly determined individual - swain, salesman, discovered adulterer etc -
confects spontaneous poetry."

or even this:

"Without intention, vehement intention, there is no drama, in life or on the stage."

As I read the article, I began to feel as if Mamet was writing a commercial for himself, plugging all of the best parts of his dramatic writing, and taking unsubstantiated potshots at another canonized American dramatist. Does Mamet really believe that Williams is "beatified" because of Night of the Iguana? I can't imagine that he does. Notice that because of the column length no other plays of Williams are even mentioned.

Will some future playwright dash off a column in which he or she indirectly suggests that Mamet's canonization is based on academics praising his Boston Marriage, while the same column eschews mention of GlenGarry Glen Ross?

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