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Mamet Schmamet

January 30, 2008

In the 1980s, a British musical duo by the name of Chas n Dave had an improbable hit on the U.K. pop charts called "Rabbit." It was all about how bored they were with some peoples' incessant chatter. (In England, when someone "rabbits on", it means they don't know how to shut up.)

I was thinking that Chas n Dave might have substituted the refrain "rabbit rabbit rabbit" for "Mamet Mamet Mamet," as sick as I'm becoming of this playwright's overexposure on our local theatre scene.

The number of Mamet plays to hit Bay Area stages lately has been astonishing. His work has not only been seen twice in the space of two years at the local flagship theatre, ACT (Sexual Perversity in Chicago and Speed the Plow) but it's also constantly cropping up in midsize and small houses too. Custom Made recently did The Old Neighborhood (as did Aurora a few years ago), The Magic staged the ill-conceived world premiere of Mamet's Dr. Faustus, and Theatre Rhino is about to take on Boston Marriage. There are countless other examples. Too many to recall.

I watched Loretta Greco's slickly directed and acted production of Speed the Plow at ACT in a state of mild bemusement over the weekend. While the production did about as good a job on the play as any rendering of the dramatist's work I've seen to date, I was left feeling rather empty afterwards. I could appreciate the artistry of the staging and the precision of the performances, but I couldn't get excited or riled up about the play's ideas.

The thing about this local (and, to some extent, national) state of Mamet Mania is that I don't think the playwright has a lot to say to audiences these days. His tough guy talk and hardline thinking dug deep into the psyche of the 1980s and 90s and exposed hidden truths about our capitalistic, chauvinistic society. We're still facing many of the same issues in 2008 as we were in 1998 and 1988. It's just that we're more aware of the problems that Mamet exposed these days. We're more cynical and not so green.

In ACT's program notes for Speed the Plow, Greco talks about coming at the play from the standpoint of wanting to understand "why we harbor such warm and fuzzy feelings about motion pictures, even though we are increasingly aware of the nasty innards of the entertainment industry." I think at this point, the "nasty innards" have taken over the idealism and nostalgia that most people feel for Hollywood, and the play does little more than tell us what we already know. Greco can't possibly believe that "most of us still think of the studios as having a special mystery and allure" when most people know that the studio system has been broken for many years. Greco speaks like a tourist on a tour of the Paramount backlot. She doesn't sound like a savvy 21st century stage director at all.

I leave you, dear readers, with some wise lines from Chas n Dave -- a plea for less rabbit (or should that be Mamet?):

no, you wont stop talkin,
why dont you give it a rest?,
you got more rabbit than sainsburys,
its time you got it off your chest,

now you are just the kinda girl to break my heart in two,
i knew right off wen i first set my eyes on you,
but how was i to know you fed my earholes too,
with your excessive talkin,
your becoming a pest,

rabbit x 8

yup yup rabbit yup yup yup rabbit rabbit bunny jabber yup rabbit bunny yup yup yup rabbit bunny jabber yup yup yup rabbit bunny jabber yup yup bunny jabber rabbit


  • I think his best play of the last, oh, 15 years or so is "The Cryptogram," and I do like "The Old Neighborhood" esp. for the "Jolly" segment, which I saw at the Goodman a couple of years ago, and found devastating. But yes -- Mamet and Shepard are both due for a moratorium.

    Neil Labute can go on the shelf for a while too, while we're at it.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, At January 30, 2008 at 3:13 PM  

  • Why don't you go find yourself a shelf yourself, Kerry?


    By Anonymous Anonymous, At February 6, 2008 at 1:57 PM  

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