That's not our Mamet, dammit!
Does the Goodman's
lineup play it too safe?
Among the best-loved qualities of David Mamet’s work is his assault on theatrical propriety. That is, we love it when his characters tell each other to fuck off. In addition to raising profanity to an art form, he’s created some of the stage’s most unpleasant characters and situations: the Hollywood suit who bets he can bed his temp secretary in Speed-the-Plow, or the patronizing prof and the wicked student who accuses him of rape in Oleanna.
Which raises the question: Where’s the Mamet in the Goodman’s Mamet festival? The most famously ballsy plays of Mamet’s canon—Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, Oleanna, Edmund—didn’t make the cut. A one-night-only staged reading of tough-talking American Buffalo stands alone in representing works we’ve come to know as vintage Mamet.
Consider the festival’s mainstage plays: A Life in the Theatre is a gentle look at an aging actor and a rising star, while Romance satirically pokes fun at Middle East peace politics. Who’s likely to be affronted by that?
It’s not that the Goodman is obligated to offend. But it seems strange that the company that took a risk on the provocative Mamet has assembled a tribute to him that’s so tame. We understand why new subscribers would be seduced by the allure of a Chicago legend. But we also hope those subscribers are hungry for plays—both Mamet classics and new works by unknowns—that challenge their ideas of what’s appropriate.—Christopher Piatt