During an interview, David Mamet once said that drama is about three things:
- Who wants what from whom?
- What happens when you get there?
- Why now?
Mamet also believes that there is no such thing as character development. There is only action and the characters’ reactions. Mamet’s dramas may not always be driven by constant twists and turns in plot, but each of his dramatic works offers a captivating and ever-increasing conflict.
Here’s a brief look at the best of David Mamet’s plays:
Quirky and poignant, Duck Variations is the tale of two men who watch ducks in a pond. They bicker, argue, and wax poetic about the lives of ducks (though they don’t seem to be experts on the subject!). This 1972 play, one of Mamet’s first, gives the audience the not-so-subtle message that humans and water fowl lead similar lives and experience similar deaths.
This play began Mamet’s literary love affair with thieves, deadbeats, and con artists. His later works would include crime-themed screenplays such as House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner. In American Buffalo the protagonist decides to steal a collection of rare coins. And like all good heist stories, something goes wrong.
Note: The Chicago production of American Buffalo featured William H. Macy, who would go on to star in many of Mamet’s films.
Glengarry Glen Ross:
Arguably the best of Mamet’s plays, this drama examines the lives of shady salesmen. Their dialogue, sprinkled with Mamet’s signature pauses, stammers, and rapid fire responses, fills the theatre with both vulgar and vibrant language. The ensemble of shifty characters simultaneously repulses, amuses, and fascinates the audience.
A powerful two-character drama, Oleanna explores the destructiveness of miscommunication and excessive political correctness. It is a play about academic politics, student/teacher relationships, and sexual harassment.
Carol, a female college student, privately meets with her male professor. She is concerned about failing the class. She is frustrated because she doesn’t understand the professor’s overly verbose lectures.
At first the professor (John) is callous with her, but when she explains that she feels incompetent, he expresses empathy for her. Because he “likes her,” he bends the rules and decides to give her an “A” if she agrees to meet with him to discuss the material, one on one. Sounds nice? Oh no, no, no. Things go seriously wrong.
Speed the Plow:
When David Mamet began writing screenplays, he became familiar with Hollywood circles – and all of the power-hungry, money obsessed producers and agents that hover like vultures waiting for their next meal. (Or so the legends say!) As with the disreputable characters in other Mamet plays, there is something at once loathsome yet hypnotic about these Hollywood players.
Speed the Plow returned to Broadway in October 2008. It starred Jeremy Piven (who left the run early), Raúl Esparza, and Elisabeth Moss.