The Los Angeles Times theater critic is depressed that playwright David Mamet has stumbled so sadly off a right-wing cliff. In his "Critic's Notebook," Charles McNulty complained from a huge spread on the cover of the Sunday Arts and Books section that rambled on inside.
Liberal writers adore insulting conservatives as stooping to the sound of “loudmouth talk radio,” and in "The problem with David Mamet," McNulty certainly sounds as “hotheaded” as his subject:
Mamet has been using the bully pulpit granted to him as an artist to broadcast the doctrines of loudmouth talk radio, that boisterous realm in which innuendo substitutes for evidence and fear-mongering replaces analysis. That's his prerogative as a citizen. But what a shame for progressives and conservatives alike that such a gifted dramatist has allowed his hotheaded dogmas to ruin his art.
One might suspect that the Times wouldn’t feel that way about any of the leftist movie stars, screenwriters, and playwrights that load their work with left-wing innuendo against conservatives. Oliver Stone, perhaps?Tony Kushner?
McNulty knows this might sound like a liberal complaining about a conservative, but he insists this is about artistry:
Mamet's shift to the right has allowed his defenders to dismiss criticism of his views as liberal bias. I don't subscribe to Mamet's ideologies, but the problem for me has less to do with the nature of his reactionary positions than with the way he has allowed the polemicist to overshadow the dramatic poet.
This is one reason I'm eager to see "American Buffalo" when it opens April 10 at the Geffen Playhouse under the direction of Randall Arney. I want to remember the scrappy Chicago tough guy who revolutionized the way characters speak on stage and forget the swaggering Hollywood transplant forever venting his spleen like a bathrobe-wearing crank in a Saul Bellow novel firing off letters to the editor at the vaguest suggestion of a partisan slight.
It just keeps resurfacing in this article, that McNulty just can’t handle this conservative messaging. We’re told Mamet’s been ruining his art since 1992, when he was finding fault with someone resembling Anita Hill:
His problem dates back more than two decades to "Oleanna," the play in which he took on the bugaboo of political correctness and got mired in a battle within his own mind that seems destined to become a second Thirty Years' War.
Written in the charged wake of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy, "Oleanna" dramatizes the conflict between a male college professor and a female student whose seemingly ungrounded accusations have disastrous consequences on his academic career. The play possesses an undeniable Mametian vigor in its demonstration of the way insecure power games play out in language. But the deck is so shamelessly stacked that it's never a fair fight.
The student's wrath, stoked by an unseen "group" of jargon-spewing feminist rabble-rousers, distorts everything we have witnessed between the two characters. What's more, Mamet keeps reminding us of all the professor has to lose by her trumped-up allegations. During the play's off-Broadway run in 1992, men in the audience were reportedly erupting in misogynistic hurrahs when the professor finally unleashed his anger — a reaction more in keeping with the black-and-white morality of melodrama than with the ethical subtleties of superior drama.
If McNulty truly despised playwrights "shamelessly stacking the deck" against one side and opposed "the black-and-white morality of melodrama," they consider these two picks from his Best of 2011 list:
"The Book of Mormon," Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York . The national tour production of this irreverent Broadway juggernaut by the creators of "South Park" and "Avenue Q" arrives at the Pantages Theatre next fall, and I can't wait to hear the doorbell chimes of those proselytizing young men in white shirts and black ties during the show's fiendishly delightful opening number, "Hello!"
"The Normal Heart," John Golden Theatre, New York. Larry Kramer's momentous cri de coeur over the laggard public response to the AIDS epidemic in this country in the early 1980s lost none of its urgency in this potent Broadway production directed by George C. Wolfe and Joel Grey that starred a devastatingly good Joe Mantello as Kramer's surrogate crusading self and a rousing Ellen Barkin as a doctor fighting a mysterious tide of death with few drugs but an enormous store of courage and empathy.
One production shamelessly mocks the Mormons (and religious belief in general), and the other melodramatically shrieks that somehow social conservatives and the Reagan administration were responsible for the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
Or consider this indictment, and wonder if this isn’t just a liberal editorial the L.A. Times just runs on a different page: “In his younger days, Mamet turned con men into feisty symbols of the fiasco of American capitalism. Now an unregenerate capitalist himself, he's been on the hunt for all those have-nots eager to pick his pocket with their outlandish demands for justice, equality and fairness.”
Who in this cultural exchange is flying ideological colors? It’s hardly just Mamet.
(HT: Gary Hall)