Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright David Mamet, in a black vest, thick-rimmed glasses, a T-shirt, and that thick accent, had plenty to say at the Largo at the Coronet Theatre on Thursday night in what the host called an evening of "literary vaudeville." The program, which featured Mamet and actor Ricky Jay on stage with two microphones, directors' chairs, and two bottles of water, played to a packed house of Mamet devotees. Even his dentist was there.
On stage largely to discuss his two new books, Theatre and The Trials of Roderick Spode: The Human Ant, Mamet seemed incredibly at ease performing under the bright lights. Mamet's new works couldn't be less similar - Theatre is a collection of thoughts and theories - or a "dissemination of a bunch of useless theories," as Mamet described them, on the working theatre world. The cover is very serious in black, white, and red. The Trials of Roderick Spode, on the other hand, is a graphic novel that chronicles the politically charged adventures of Roderick Spode, a human ant. Mamet insisted that the book has no underlying message, saying "its your typical story about your regular human ant." On stage, he mentioned that this was a collaborative effort with his son, who drew and named a number of the characters, including European Sourdough Rye.
On stage, very little was left untouched. Ricky Jay, who was responsible for moving the conversation along, said he'd come up with each topic based on what he found when he "typed 'David Mamet' into Google News." He quipped, "turns out, some people really don't like you." The topics ranged from stories about the old days in Chicago with "Billy Macy" to his aversion to plays derived from the Russian school of theatre to the difference between magic tricks and plays.
Mamet spoke with me briefly in one of the Largo's small dressing rooms before appearing on stage, and he said he'd decided to quit reading articles about himself long ago. Still quick to dispel any notion that he has an axe to grind in his fiction writing, Mamet said, "I'm just trying to write drama." He insisted that in his early work perhaps one of his characters had a theory or two to promote, but now he's more interested in revealing certain ubiquitous truths.
When asked about his latest Broadway show, Race, he said the play is his way of revealing a truth, if not the truth, about race. "Bill Clinton told us to have a conversation about race, so did Barack Obama. Well, what the hell else has anyone been doing for the last forty years?" Race is Mamet's active push to inspire something more than just a conversation. Sound similar to his truth-revealing Oleanna? Perhaps. He said that with that play, he'd "gotten sexual politics out of [his] system."
Whether you worship at the house of Mamet or not, there's no denying the man his time on stage - few moments could have revealed Mamet's unconventional genius as when an unsuspecting woman asked a question about character development during the Q&A. Mamet looked at her deadpan and stated simply, "there's no such thing as character development."