Book review: 'Theatre' by David Mamet

Sunday, May 23, 2010


By David Mamet

Faber and Faber. 157 pp. $22

Before David Mamet won a Pulitzer Prize for his play "Glengarry Glen Ross," he was an idealistic member of a scrappy Chicago theater company -- a devotee of Method acting pioneer Constantin Stanislavski and Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht. Then he got cynical. "It took me many years as a director to acknowledge that not only did I have no idea what the above were talking about, but that, most probably, they didn't either," Mamet writes in "Theatre," a cranky collection of essays that take on pretentious directors and subsidized productions.

"Nobody cares what you feel," he advises actors who are more concerned with their characters' motivations than whether the paying audience laughs and cries when it's supposed to and keeps its "asses in the seats." Liberal theatergoers may blanch at Mamet's dramaturgical and political conservatism: "Champions of so-called theory, whether feminist, Marxist, multicultarist, or other, in an attempt (supposedly) to cleanse expression of bias, are involved in a postmodern rendition of book burning." But fans of his friendlier, funnier prose collections like "Writing in Restaurants" (1987) will find his cutting wit, as ever, on point. Could one expect less from a director whose theory of stagecraft is summed up in an essay called "On the Uselessness of the Rehearsal Process?"

-- Justin Moyer

© 2010 The Washington Post Company