David Mamet: Dramatic craftsman

Steven Daniel Ryan, Fordham University


The aphasic speech patterns that typify the vocabulary of so many of David Mamet's characters is the objective correlative of the Russian theatrical giant Constantin Stanislavsky's theory that "words create behavior." Unable to find language capable of defining the gap between their spiritual needs as human beings and the reality of their everyday existences, Mamet's characters frequently resort to using words that appear inappropriate or even incoherent on an objective level but metaphorically reveal the characters' understanding of, and relationship to, the external world. Consequently, language functions as the solder that welds Mamet's artistic technique and personal philosophy together, a poetic device through which the playwright portrays an entire culture's failure to examine itself analytically. To stress the importance of his characters' language, Mamet has often chosen to minimize the role of such traditional dramatic techniques as plot, setting, and conflict in his work so that the audience's attention is riveted squarely upon the actors and the dialogue they are speaking, forcing not just plot but also theme to flow naturally from the linguistic rhythms intrinsic within the play. Further, the themes which Mamet explores are inextricably entwined with his subject matter, which encompasses such broad subjects as the mundanity of the American laborer's life; two elderly Jewish men's ruminations about ducks; a group of petty thieves' ineffectual attempts to commit a robbery; the confusion of alienated urban singles; the machinations of real estate salesmen, doctors, actors, and lawyers; the moral dilemmas of a fictionalized version of legendary Chicago gangbuster Eliot Ness; and so on. Mamet's diverse works are vehicles through which he confronts the fundamental mystery of human existence; as he has stated: " thinspace'How can we live in a world in which we know we're going to die?' thinspace" All of the characters in Mamet's canon are personifications of an estranged and confused culture's desperate need to discover worthwhile spiritual values. An examination of Mamet's works, the writings of those who have influenced him, and extent critical commentary reveals the evolution of Mamet's artistic vision, which is firmly grounded within the relationship between his characters' use of language and the author's understanding of human nature.

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Recommended Citation

Ryan, Steven Daniel, "David Mamet: Dramatic craftsman" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8818476.