vTheatre/mamet + THR413 script analysis pages: mamet

2007 Spring: Postmodern Project II: AmeriKa

2006 Fall: POMO I: Europe (Pinter)

Projects in PLAYS.

amdrama page *

AmDrama: 3 + 3 = (O'Neill - Williams - Miller) + (Albee - Shepard - Mamet) and Kushner and others

The only (such) film that credited him by name was Hannibal.

"Invent Nothing, Deny Nothing" [to acting students at Atlantic Theater Company]

"There's no such thing as talent; you just have to work hard enough."

"A good film script should be able to do completely without dialogue."

"We live in oppressive times. We have, as a nation, become our own thought police; but instead of calling the process by which we limit our expression of dissent and wonder 'censorship,' we call it 'concern for commercial viability.'"


His first screenplay was the 1981 adaptation of James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice The following year he earned an Academy Award nomination for The Verdict (1982). He returned to films for The Untouchables (1987), a pet project set in his home town of Chicago, and then took on the more lighthearted remake We're No Angels (1989). In 1987 Mamet made an impressive directing debut with House of Games (from his own script), a story of con artists which starred his then-wife, Lindsay Crouse, and a host of longtime stage associates, including his acting alter ego, Joe Mantegna. Mantegna also starred in Mamet's subsequent directing efforts Things Change (1988, an ironic, low-key comedy costarring Don Ameche) and Homicide (1991, an intriguing if not fully realized urban drama). Mamet adapted his Pulitzer Prize-winning play for the film Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), adding one dynamic character (played by Alec Baldwin) who didn't appear in the play, and wrote the screenplay for Hoffa (also 1992). In 1994, he adapted and directed his play Oleanna and adapted Vanya on 42nd Street from "Uncle Vanya." Mamet's play "A Life in the Theater" became a cable-TV movie in 1993; his earlier play "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" was adapted, and diluted, as the film EB in 1986.

Glengarry Glen Ross (sparknotes): Suggestions for Further Reading -- The play shows parts of two days in the lives of four desperate Chicago real estate agents who are prepared to engage in any number of unethical and/or illegal acts (from lies and flattery to bribery, threats and intimidation to burglary) in order to sell undesirable real estate to unwilling prospective buyers. The title of the play comes from the names of two of the real estate developments being peddled by the salesmen.

Am. roots: Death of a Salesman = "macho America" and "American Dream"

American Buffalo, his first major play and still his finest(?)

Glengarry Glen Ross (film) wikipedia : Starring = Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Jonathan Pryce

The word fuck is used in the script a total of 152 times during the 100 minute long movie.
During filming, the movie was referred to by the actors as "Death of a Fucking Salesman," owing to its salty language.

"The World without Women"

A Story For Everyone Who Works For A Living. [Taglines]

Ricky Roma: All train compartments smell vaguely of shit. It gets so you don't mind it. That's the worst thing that I can confess. You know how long it took me to get there? A long time. When you die you're going to regret the things you don't do. You think you're queer? I'm going to tell you something: we're all queer. You think you're a thief? So what? You get befuddled by a middle-class morality? Get shut of it. Shut it out. You cheated on your wife? You did it, live with it. You fuck little girls, so be it. There's an absolute morality? Maybe. And then what? If you think there is, then be that thing. Bad people go to hell? I don't think so. If you think that, act that way. A hell exists on earth? Yes. I won't live in it. That's me. You ever take a dump made you feel like you'd just slept for twelve hours?

Beyond Naturalism: A New Realism in American Theatre by William W. Demastes; Greenwood Press, 1988 :

David Mamet (b. 1947) is a writer interested in studying what man has become as a result of his social surroundings. But unlike the old realists and more like his contemporary, David Rabe, Mamet is less concerned with social issues per se than he is with uncovering how these social concerns have actually taken over and corrupted/destroyed the men and women of that society and then cut them free. Mamet himself argues, "The purpose of the theater is not primarily to deal with social issues; it's to deal with spiritual issues".

In a 1986 interview, Mamet justifies utilizing a "well-made" plot with the following claim:

I'm sure trying to do the well-made play . . . . I like this form because it's the structure imitating human perception . . . . This is the way we perceive a play: with a clear beginning, a middle, and an end. So when one wants to best utilize the theatre, one would try to structure a play in a way that is congruent with the way the mind perceives it. ( Roudane77)
Mamet: The purpose of the system was, and is, to free the actor from extraneous considerations and permit him or her to turn all of his or her concentration on the objective ( Stanislavski's "super-objective'], which is not "this performance," but the meaning of the play.

Script Analysis: Pinter - Homecoming
Theatre UAF * Fall.06


Semester 2, 2004

Lecture 9 Oleanna: Sexual Harrassment, Gender and Truth

Production history First performed 1992 in Cambridge (USA) and New York. First English production at The Royal Court, directed by Harold Pinter. It generated 'a great amount of debate about . . . contemporary gender politics'.

> Oleanna is considered David Mamet's most controversial play for its treatment of the issue of sexual harrassment. Many critics have argued that it works to recuperate the masculine subject from more than a decade of feminist critiques of its dominant social position, power and privilege.

Michael Mangan positions the play within a men's movement that came to prominence in the late in the late 1980s and 1990s. Indeed the play's first performance in 1992 places it well within an emerging consciousness of masculinity in crisis that was widely considered to be a response or reaction to feminism.

Mangan: 'In one way or another, however, the men's movement in all its manifestations is a product of feminism, a response to the various feminist analyses of traditional gender constructions'. (225)

Many men were supportive of feminist critiques of hegemonic masculinity, recognised that masculinity was an ideological construct, rejected male myths and icons and claimed oppression by a normative gender scheme (Buchbinder 1994, 1998; Connell 1995; Bordo 1999).

Buchbinder (1994):

Masculinities? A plurality of masculinity? Twenty years ago such an idea would have been, to say the least, unusual. And twenty years before that, probably unthinkable. Masculinity had traditionally been seen as self-evident, natural, universal; above all as unitary and whole, not multiple or divided. (1)

Others pleaded for the defence of men. Mangan cites David Thomas's 1993 book Not Guilty: In Defence of the Modern Man as an example of a counter-movement making claims for 'male victimhood'.

Thomas: 'Men certainly feel under attack . . . increasingly men felt as if they stood accused. They felt as if they had been put in the wrong. And they didn't like it' (cited in Mangan 224).

Mangan then positions Mamet's Oleanna as a play that articulates 'this sense of men on the defensive'.

Carla McDonough (1997) is more critical. She sees Mamet's plays including Glengarry Glen Ross, as being about 'the search for masculine space' in 'the jungle of the city' in competition with women. We saw in Glengarry Glen Ross how women were othered by male characters along with fairies, children and idiots. However, women, especially assertive and independent, feminist women, also represent a threat to the dominant masculine position.

McDonough: '. . . the idea of masculine space in Mamet's work is always made dependent on the destruction or exclusion of female subjectivity in order to glorify male independence or strength.' (72)

We can see in the two critical positions represented by Mangan and McDonough the split in the debate about the masculine in performance and in the wider social sphere.

McDonough offers a feminist critique of male privilege and Mangan while agreeing there is much at fault with hegemonic masculinity, reads the play as an articulation of the sense of men on the defensive. The differences between the two positions are simple in that Mangan is focused primarily on the feminine in a feminine-centred reading and McDonough's is on the masculine.

McDonough claims that Mamet's treatment of sexual harrassment in Oleanna 'stacks the deck, perhaps unconsciously on Mamet's part, in favour of his male character, effectively shutting down the possibility of real expose by its lack of character development in regard to the female character.' (95)

The play

The play is composed of three scenes.

In Scene I, Carol, a history student, goes to see her professor to get feedback on her essay which has been given a poor mark. She comes across as confused, nave, literal-minded and passive. She seems academically unsuited to college and she knows it, yet she is desperate to pass, having struggled hard to get there in the first place.

John does not have a scheduled meeting with Carol and is preoccupied by personal matters: the phone keeps ringing, he is supposed to be meeting his wife, they are negotiating to buy a house. John has been promoted and is about to get tenure. The new house will be a sign of his improved social and monetary position and evidence of his position as a provider for his wife and son. When Carol offers to come back another time, he tells her to stay and they continue a fragmented conversation for some time.

Carol: The language of the "things" you say. . .

John: I'm sorry. No I dont think that that's true.

Carol: It is true. I. . .

John: I think. . .

Carol: It is true.

John:. . . I. . . (7)

John's interest is kindled when he sees Carol as a victim of the educational system and begins to talk to her 'as a person' as fits his self-identity as a liberal educator.

John: Listen: I'm talking to you as I'd talk to my son. . . I'm talking to you the way I wish that someone has talked to me. I don't know how to do it, other than to be personal, . . . but. . .

Carol: Why would you want to be personal with me. (19)

In his attempts to explain deal with education he offers to give her an A grade if she will come and see him on a regular basis and he will be her mentor (p. 25).

This will be his first error that will be interpreted by Carol and her support group as sexual harrassment.

Interestingly Mangan takes a very sympathetic view of this move. He attributes it to the influence and practices of radical education theory of the 1960s and 1970s (Illich 1973 and Holt 1969) which saw examinations and assessment as oppressive and anti-learning.

McDonough reads it more critically as 'John quickly comes to pity Carol and offers to let her take the course over in special tutorials with him' and sees it as 'paternalistic' and 'certainly patronising' (96).

His second move is by way of explaining class privilege to tell a story about how the rich and poor have sex (p. 32). Carol in her later complaint against John will refer to the story as 'vile and classist, and manipulative and pornographic and that he has no right to speak to a woman in his office of such matters (51). The third will be to pit his arm around her in a way that he understands is a paternalistic gesture and she understands as an inappropriate touch.

Carol: . . . (he goes over to her and puts his arm around her shoulder.)

NO! (She walks away from him.) (p. 36)

The clue for the spectator about where this will go follows shortly:

John: . . . What do you feel?

Carol: I feel bad. (37)

John fatally fails to understand her meaning here and the spectator is I believe offered an insight into the way in cases of sexual harrassment 'truth is relevant to the participant each participant perceives a different version of their encounter' (McDonough 95).

McDonough reads the first act:

The first act of this play is a masterpiece of inarticulateness on the part of John, who creates inarticulateness on the part of Carol by never allowing her to finish a sentence. (95)

McDonough thus focuses on the way in which John as the dominant male character further disempowers Carol.

Mangan's more affirmative reading of John is that in the first act:

. .. . Mamet does not portray him as a hypocrite or predator: merely as someone enmeshed in the contradictions of power relationships within a particular social, educational and economic system. (230)

Scene Two begins with the dramatically stunning revelation that the nave and passive Carol of the first scene has filed a complaint against John to the university's Tenure Committee. John begins the scene calm and confident the complaint will be dismissed. But in the meantime, the promotion will be delayed, the house deal will fall through and he will lose his deposit. The inconvenience etc. wont she consider dropping the complaint.

John: . . . Can we not settle this now? It's pointless, really, and I want to know.

Carol: What you can do to force me to retract?

John: That is not what I meant as all.

Carol: To bribe me, to convince me. . .

John: . . . No. (46)

John would rather reach an agreement that Carol has misunderstood him and misconstrued his actions. But Carol with new found confidence and assertiveness refuses to withdraw the complaint and cites the evidence from the first scene which she has recorded in notes.

She begins to assert her entirely different view of the meeting over John's , saying repeatedly, 'don't you see' 'don't impinge on me' (56).

Carol: I don't care what you feel. Do you see? DO YOU SEE? You can't do that anymore. You. Do. Not. Have. The . Power. Did you misuse it? Someone did. (50)

In view of the play's representation of harrassment, the text swings from giving sympathy to John and then Carol but as the stakes are raised the case against Carol and in favour of John becomes stronger.

This happens as Carol criticises John for referring to the Tenure Committee that includes a woman as 'Good Men and True' as a demeaning and sexist remark. We are moved to agree with John that that is not serious enough an offence to 'deprive a family of . . . [their breadwinnings].

Secondly, towards the end of Scene 2, John 'restrains her from leaving' (57), and in Scene 3 Carol uses this to begin proceedings against him 'you tried to rape me. ' . . . under the statute. I am told. It was battery.' (78)

Now how a production directs the bodies' semiotic relations to each other in scene 2 will entirely impact on and direct the spectator's response to the attempted rape accusation in scene 3.

Throughout scenes 2 and 3 Carol is exerting a different kind of power over John from the one that he exercised over her in act 1, but she now certainly seems to hold the power. It is worth considering the gendered basis of the power differential.

John's power in Act 1:

The power vested in him is a teacher, father, writer, with the authority to pass and fail students, to make decisions and control interactions in the space of his office, to contribute to knowledge through writing and to provide for his wife and child. He has the power of understanding the world and the way it works, to explain, narrate, see.

Carol argues that his behaviour is not to do with 'your sex', or 'your race' or 'your class' but 'your own actions' (64). This is born out in Jane Gallop as a female academic who is also accused of sexual harrassment.

Carol's power in Acts 2 and 3.

To make a complaint, to construct a counter-narrative, to read things differently, to be different. She can also use the regulatory powers of the law and self-regulatory powers of the institution (in this case the university).

And then just as Carol seems to have a case, she tells John not to call his wife 'baby' whereupon John loses it completely.

McDonough's point is that the cards are stacked against Carol by the ludicrousness of her construction by Mamet.

While we have no personal background on Carol to make her a reak person for us, further ways in which she is portrayed serve to distance us from interpreting her as a believable and thereby a sympathetic character. (96)

Ultimately for McDonough it is simplistic reading of gender misunderstandings.

For Mangan it is Mamet's response to 'the climate of 'political correctness' in the US academy and the ensuing paranoia which was engendered among male academics of the time.' (235) References:


Buchbinder, David 1994 Masculinities and Identities Melbourne: Melbourne University Press

Gallop, Jane 2001 'Feminist Accused of Sexual Harrasment'

Mamet, David 1993 Oleanna London: Methuen Drama

Mangan, Michael 2003 Staging Masculinities: History, Gender, Performance

McDonough, Carla 1997

Glengarry Glen Ross

            Will you please wait a second.
            Shelly.  Please.  Murray told me:
            the hot leads...

            ...ah, fuck this...

            The hot leads are assigned according
            to the board.  During the contest.
            Period.  Anyone who beats fifty

            That's fucked.  That's fucked.  You
            don't look at the fucking percentage.
            You look at the gross.

            Either way.  You're out.

            I'm out.


            I'll tell you why I'm out.  I'm
            out, you're giving me toilet paper.

            I've seen those leads.  I saw them
            when I was at Homestead, we pitched
            those cocksuckers Rio Rancho
            nineteen sixty-nine they wouldn't
            buy.  They couldn't buy a fucking
            toaster.  They're broke, John.
            They're cold.  They're deadbeats,
            you can't judge on that.  Even so.
            Even so.  Alright.  Fine.  Fine.
            Even so.  I go in, FOUR FUCKING
            LEADS they got their money in a
            sock.  They're fucking Polacks,
            John.  Four leads.  I close two.
            Two.  Fifty per...

            ...they kicked out.

            They all kick out.  You run in
            streaks, pal.  Streaks.  I'm...
            I'm...don't look at the board, look
            at me.  Shelly Levene.  Anyone.
            Ask them on Western.  Ask Getz at
            Homestead.  Go ask Jerry Graff.
            You know who I am...I NEED A SHOT.
            I got to get on the fucking board.
            Ask them.  Ask them.  Ask them who
            ever picked up a check I was flush.
            Moss, Jerry Graff, Mitch
            himself...Those guys lived on the
            business I brought in.  They lived
            on it...and so did Murray, John.
            You were here you'd of benefited
            from it too.  And now I'm saying
            this.  Do I want charity?  Do I
            want pity?  I want sits.  I want
            leads that don't come right out of
            a phone book.  Give me a lead
            hotter than that, I'll go in and
            close it.  Give me a chance.
            That's all I want.  I'm going to
            get up on that fucking board and
            all I want is a chance.  It's a
            streak and I'm going to turn it
            I need your help.


            I can't do it, Shelly.



            The leads are assigned randomly...

            Bullshit, bullshit, you assign
            them... What are you telling me?

            ...apart from the top men on the
            contest board.

            Then put me on the board.

            You start closing again, you'll be
            on the board.

            I can't close these leads, John.
            No one can.  It's a joke.  John,
            look, just give me a hot lead.
            Just give me two of the premium
            leads.  As a "test," alright?  As a
            "test" and I promise you...

            I can't do it, Shel.


            I'll give you ten percent.


            Of what?

            And what if you don't close.

            I will close.

            What if you don't close...?

            I will close.

            What if you don't?  Then I'm fucked.
            You see...?  Then it's my job.
            That's what I'm telling you.

            I will close.  John, John, ten
            percent.  I can get hot.  You know

            Not lately you can't...

            Fuck that.  That's defeatist.  Fuck
            that.  Fuck it...Get on my side.
            Go with me.  Let's do something.
            You want to run this office, run it.

            Twenty percent.



            And fifty bucks a lead.

            Listen.  I want to talk to you.
            Permit me to do this a second.  I'm
            older than you.  A man acquires a
            reputation.  On the street.  What
            he does when he's up, what he does
            otherwise...I said "ten," you said
            "no." You said "twenty." I said
            "fine," I'm not going to fuck with
            you, how can I beat that, you tell
            me?...Okay.  Okay.  We'll...Okay.
            Fine.  We'll...Alright, twenty
            percent, and fifty bucks a lead.
            That's fine.  For now.  That's fine.
            A month or two we'll talk.  A month
            from now.  Next month.  After the
            We'll talk.

WILLIAMSON What are we going to say?

LEVENE No. You're right. That's for later. We'll talk in a month. What have you got? I want two sits. Tonight.