"We live in an extraordinarily debauched, interesting, savage world, where things really don't come out even. The purpose of true drama is to help remind us of that. Perhaps this does have an accidental, a cumulative social effect--to remind us to be a little more humble or a little more grateful or a little more ruminative."
- David Mamet,
Three Uses of the Knife
Playwright, director, essayist, novelist, poet DAVID MAMET is one of America's most important--and influential--weavers of stories about loyalty and deceit. Time has called him an American Harold Pinter--"funnier, raunchier with a keener sense of the particularities of time and place."
Mamet was born in Chicago to parents of Russian Jewish extraction on November 30, 1947. His father was a labor lawyer, his mother a teacher. He attended Goddard College in Vermont, where he later taught acting. In 1972, he formed the St. Nicholas Company at Goddard with two of his acting students (one was William H. Macy of "Fargo") and then moved it to Chicago between 1973 and 1977. There, at age 24, he began attracting serious acclaim for his unique staccato, highly cadenced use of dialogue, peppered with a liberal quantity of brutal language. When asked about his celebrated use of obscenity in his work, Mamet once said, "In my family, in the days prior to television, we liked to wile away the evenings by making ourselves miserable, solely based on our ability to speak the language viciously." His ear for the slippery codes of idiosyncratic vernacular was also honed during a rebellious youth, a variety of jobs (estate agent, truck driver, office cleaner, carpet salesman, window cleaner, sailor) and the impact of discovering such authors as Frank Norris, Willa Cather and, above all, Theodore Dreiser. But Mamet's writing was also deeply influenced by the spare poetry of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, with whom he shares a writerly precision and an artful use of the pause.
Mamet first won recognition with his plays, "Sexual Perversity In Chicago" (filmed as "About Last Night") and "American Buffalo" (filmed with Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Franz). When both plays opened in New York in 1976, Mamet won the Obie Award for distinguished playwriting, and "American Buffalo" was voted Best Play by the New York Drama Critics Circle. In 1978, he received the Outer Critics Circle Award for his contribution to American Theater.
In 1984, Mamet won another Best Play award from the New York Drama Critics Circle as well as the Pulitzer Prize for "Glengarry Glen Ross."
The play also collected four Tony awards and was filmed in 1992. His other plays include "Edmond" and "The Cryptogram," both Obie Award winners, as well as "The Water Engine," "A Life in the Theatre," "Lakeboat," "Speed-the-Plow," "Oleanna" and "The Old Neighborhood."
Mamet has also won acclaim for his numerous screenplays--the Oscar-nominated script of "The Verdict" for Sidney Lumet; "The Postman Always Rings Twice" for Bob Rafelson; Brian De Palma's "The Untouchables;" Neil Jordan's "We're No Angels," with Robert DeNiro and Sean Penn; "Hoffa," directed by Danny DeVito and starring Jack Nicholson in the title role; "The Edge" with Anthony Hopkins, and Barry Levinson's "Wag the Dog," with Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro, which, while released earlier, had a plot with unmistakable resonance to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Mamet also penned an episode for the "Hill Street Blues" TV series.
While Mamet is generally associated with his work with marginal, tough-talking characters--petty con men, shifty real estate salesmen and the like, his writing is much more diverse than is commonly known. His plays range from "Duck Variations," about two old men sitting on a park bench discussing ducks, to "The Old Neighborhood," a deeply moving three-part play about a late thirtyish Jewish man trying to make sense of his past during a visit home. He has adapted four works by Chekhov, "Vint," "The Cherry Orchard," "Three Sisters" and "Uncle Vanya," (the basis for an acclaimed ongoing staging in New York by Andre Gregory, captured on film in Louis Malle's "Vanya on 42nd Street"), written children's plays and books, seven volumes of essays and two novels, numerous magazine articles, and collaborated on many songs with his wife, actress/singer-songwriter Rebecca Pidgeon.
"The Winslow Boy" is his sixth film as writer-director after his critically acclaimed debut film, "House of Games," selected to close the New York Film Festival in 1987; his gentle Mafia fable, "Things Change" (co-written with Shel Silverstein), for which Joe Montegna and Don Ameche shared Best Actor honors at the 1988 Venice Film festival; "Homicide," which opened the 1991 Cannes festival; "Oleanna," in 1994, the sole film he has adapted and directed from one of his plays; and most recently, "The Spanish Prisoner," his acclaimed Hitchcockian thriller which became one of the most popular independent films of 1998.
Mamet also acted in the TV adaptation of his play "The Water Engine" and played a gambler in Bob Rafelson's movie "Black Widow." He has taught acting at his alma mater, Goddard College, The University of Chicago, Yale School of Drama and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where he established a traveling repertory company in 1988, called the Atlantic Theater Company.
Mamet currently divides his time between homes in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Vermont which he shares with his wife and daughter, Clara. (He has two other daughters, Willa and Zosia, from his previous marriage to Lindsay Crouse.) His upcoming projects include a screenplay for a new version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," to star Al Pacino and to be directed by Harold Becker, and a screen adaption of his play "Lakeboat" with Joe Mantegna starring and making his directorial debut. He is currently working on a new play.
Films as Director:
"House of Games" (1987), also screenplay
"Things Change" (1988), also screenplay co-written with Shel Silverstein
"Homicide" (1991), also screenplay
"Oleanna" (1994), also screenplay
"The Spanish Prisoner" (1998), also screenplay
"The Winslow Boy" (1999), also screenplay adaptation from Terence Rattigan's play
"The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1981, dir. Bob Rafelson)
"The Verdict" (1982, dir. Sidney Lumet, Acad. Award nominee for Best Screenplay)
"The Untouchables" (1987, dir. Brian De Palma)
"We're No Angels" (1989, dir. Neil Jordan)
"Hoffa" (1992, dir. Danny De Vito)
"The Edge" (1997, dir. Lee Tamahori)
"Wag the Dog" (1997, dir. Barry Levinson)
"A Wasted Weekend" (1986), script for 1987 episode of "Hill Street Blues"
"Texan" (1994), script for TV movie
"Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants" (1996, HBO Special), director
"Lakeboat" (1970), revised in 1980
"The Duck Variations" (1972)
"Sexual Perversity in Chicago" (1974) Obie Award
"American Buffalo" (1975), Obie Award, New York Drama Critics Circle Award
"The Water Engine" (1976)
"A Life in the Theater" (1977)
"The Woods" (1977)
"Lone Canoe" (1978)
"Mr. Happiness" (1978)
"Prairie du Chien" (1979)
"The Sanctity of Marriage" (1979)
"Short Plays and Monologues" (published 1981)
"Edmond" (1982), Obie Award
"The Disappearance of the Jews" (1983), now act one of "The Old Neighborhood"
"Glengarry Glen Ross" (1984), Pulitzer Prize, New York Drama Critics Circle Award
"The Shawl" (1985)
"Goldberg Street," Short Plays and Monologues" (published 1985)
"Bobby Gould in Hell" (1989)
"Jolly" (1989), now act two of "The Old Neighborhood"
"D." (1989), now act three of "The Old Neighborhood"
"The Cryptogram" (1995), Obie Award
"An Interview" (1995), one-act in "Death Defying Acts"
"The Old Neighborhood" (1997)
"The Revenge of the Space Pandas" (1978)
"The Poet and the Rent" (1981)
"The Frog Prince" (1982)
Theatrical Translations and Adaptations:
"Red River" (1983), Pierre Laville
"Vint" (1985), from story by Anton Chekhov
"The Cherry Orchard" (1985), Anton Chekhov
"Three Sisters" (1991), Anton Chekhov
"Uncle Vanya" (1994), Anton Chekhov, seen in Louis Malle's film "Vanya on 42nd Street"
Film and Television Adaptations of Mamet Plays:
"About Last Night..." (1986, dir. Edward Zwick)
based on "Sexual Perversity in Chicago"
"The Water Engine" (1992, television, dir. Steven Schacter)
"Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992, dir. James Foley)
"A Life in the Theatre" (1993, television, dir. Gregory Mosher)
"Oleanna" (1994, dir. David Mamet)
"American Buffalo" (1996, dir. Michael Corrente)
Non-fiction books and Collected Essays:
Writing in Restaurants (1987)
Some Freaks (1989)
On Directing Film (1990)
The Cabin (1992)
Make-Believe Town (1996)
True And False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor (1997)
Three Uses of the Knife (1998)
The Village (1994)
The Old Religion (1997)
Warm and Cold (1985, with drawings by Donald Sultan)
Three Children's Plays (1986)
The Owl (1987)
The Duck and the Goat (1996)
The Hero Pony (1990)