Biography of David Mamet

David Mamet was born in 1947 in Chicago. He began writing plays while attending Goddard College in Vermont, founding his own theater company in the 1970s. Even in these early days, he was a prolific playwright, often conjuring scenes in which interpersonal relationships were displayed and dissected for the audience to see. Duck Variations, for instance, produced in 1972, portrays only a conversation between two elderly men on a park bench, whose conversation spirals into topics ranging from ducks in the park to mortality. His other works from this period include Sexual Perversity in Chicago from 1974 and American Buffalo from 1975, both of which were eventually made into films (Sexual Perversity in Chicago was retitled About Last Night when produced as a film).

Mamet's plays during the 1970's garnered him popularity and prestige, alongside criticism for what some saw as sexist or misogynistic undertones in his work, which, undeniably, has tended to at least focus on the travails of men in what is portrayed as a hostile modern world. In 1984, Mamet was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in drama, as well as the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, for his play Glengarry Glen Ross, a drama about real-estate salesmen in New York. Five years later, Oleanna was produced. Though Oleanna was a success, it was a controversial one, with some audiences arguing that its portrayal of a sexual-assault survivor was tinged with harmful stereotypes. Perhaps in response, Mamet produced a series of plays that departed from his typical topics: first Boston Marriage, a comedy centered around a lesbian couple in the early twentieth century, and then Doctor Faustus, an interpretation of the popular and frequently adapted Faust legend.

In the twenty-first century, Mamet has continued to write and produce plays at a prolific pace, often returning to familiar themes and techniques: he wrote about sexual assault in 2019 in the play Bitter Wheat, influenced by the MeToo movement and by the host of sexual assault accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein. He continued, too, to deeply explore relationships by placing his protagonists in a limited setting and allowing the audience to observe them closely. For instance, The Anarchist portrays an extended meeting between a prison inmate and a prison official. Throughout his career, one of Mamet's primary focuses has been the role of language in obscuring truth, revealing truth, and establishing power relations. Mamet's characters often use colorful, vernacular English, and tend to speak with conviction but betray their true feelings and motives through body language, the patterns of their language, or action onstage. Indeed, his dialogue, located in an uneasy space between naturalistic and stylized, is so distinctive that it has been dubbed "mametspeak."

Mamet's output has not, however, been limited to plays: he has written screenplays, fiction, and nonfiction as well. Among these works are the screenplays for The Postman Always Rings Twice, produced in 1981, and The Verdict, in 1982. This latter screenplay earned Mamet an Academy Award nomination, as did his screenplays for Wag The Dog and Hannibal, produced in 1997 and 2001 respectively. In some cases, Mamet both wrote and directed films, such as The Spanish Prisoner, in 1998. Mamet's nonfiction and novels have often dealt with social problems in American life— for instance, the novel The Old Religion, published in 1997, confronted a real instance of antisemitic violence in American history, while Mamet's nonfiction work The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred, and the Jews dealt with a similar topic through a nonfiction lens nearly a decade later, in 1996. Mamet's nonfiction and essays often discussed the craft of writing and directing as well, in books such as Three Uses of the Knife, published in 1996.

Study Guides on Works by David Mamet

To fully appreciate the context and background of Glengarry Glen Ross it helps to know who Thorstein Veblen was, to be familiar with postmodern literary techniques and—perhaps most importantly—not assume that just because you saw the movie you...

David Mamet’s Oleanna premiered in May 1992, as the first production of Mamet’s Back Bay Theater Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The debut featured William H. Macy as John, an aloof and pretentious academic, and Rebecca Pidgeon as Carol, his...