MAMET, DAVID (1947– ), U.S. playwright. Born in Chicago, Mamet received a B.A. from Goddard College in 1969 and taught playwriting there for a brief period. He started his theatrical career as an actor and director before his own plays were ever produced. He began writing for the stage in 1971 with The Duck Variations. In 1973, Mamet founded, along with three friends, his own theater company in Chicago (St. Nicholas) and remained its artistic director through 1975.
A primary theme running throughout his work is the question of whether moral people can exist in an excessively immoral world. The environment he depicts is often devoid of any emotion and spirituality, and morality, if it exists, is on the decline. The strong male characters for which Mamet is known find it difficult to survive let alone thrive in such a world. In fact, the characters that do thrive are typically devoid of morality as well. His dialogue is often a stylized, almost poetic, version of the streetwise speech found in noir films and novels.
Mamet's plays include Sexual Perversity in Chicago (1973), Reunion (1973), Squirrels (1974), American Buffalo (1976), A Life in the Theater (1976), The Water Engine (1976), The Woods (1977), Lone Canoe (1978), Prairie du Chien (1978), Lakeboat (1980), Donny March (1981), Edmond (1982), The Disappearance of the Jews (1983), Glengarry Glen Ross (1984), and Speed the Plow (1988), which received the Tony Award for Best Play of the Year, Oleanna (1993), The Cryptogram (1995), and The Old Neighborhood: Three Plays (1998).
Mamet received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for American Buffalo (1977) and Glengarry Glen Ross (1984), for which he was also the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The play depicts desperate salesmen and the extreme measures, from ethically questionable to positively illegal, to which they resort to sell undesirable units of real estate. Mamet has also written screenplays, among them The Postman Always Rings Twice (1979), The Verdict (1980), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay Adaptation, The Untouchables (1987), House of Games (1987, also directed), Things Change (1988, also directed), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992, an adaptation of his play), Hoffa (1992), The Spanish Prisoner (1997, also directed), Wag the Dog (1997, adapted from Larry Beinhart's novel American Hero), State and Main (2000, also directed), and The Heist (2001, also directed).
The prolific author has also written novels, including The Old Religion: A Novel (1997), Bar Mitzvah (1999), and Wilson: A Consideration of the Sources (2001); children's books including Passover (1995) and The Duck and the Goat (1996); and nonfiction including Writing in Restaurants (1987), Some Freaks (1989), The Cabin: Reminiscence and Diversions (1992), and Three Uses for a Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama (1998).
C. Bigsby (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to David Mamet (2004); L. Kane, Weasels and Wisemen: Ethics and Ethnicity in the Work of David Mamet (1999).
[Jonathan Licht /
Robert L. Del Bane (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.