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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Something Useful from David Mamet

As noted elsewhere (Here and Here) David Mamet has written up this piece in the Guardian about Night of the Iguana.

As usual, Mamet is in rare form as he says ridiculous things like:

"To praise drama as primarily poetic is to engage in propositional theology; ie to enjoy the sense of probity and status conferred by the announcement of an elevated and approved opinion. This, though, is the province of the cleric and has nothing whatever to do with the performance or the enjoyment of real drama." (I wonder what Kirk Wood Bromley would say to this...?)

Another Gem:

"Playwriting is a young man's - and, of late, a young woman's - game. It requires the courage of youth still inspired by rejection and as yet unperverted by success. Most playwrights' best work is probably their earliest." (I would argue that Mamet's own earliest plays are not his best.)

That being said... there is something Mamet does that is mechanically useful here, which is to write down what he feels makes a "good play." Herein are the points of argument, and I think that they are the points worthy of discussion.

Rule #1: A Play is Written to be Performed. He argues that anything in the text that is not "performable" reduces the quality of the play.

Rule #2: Any spoken line of dialogue that is not written for the express purpose of furthering the plot reduces the quality of the play.

Rule #3: The "poetry" of drama is equal to the "mechanical purity of the dialogue."

I'm curious what we think of these "rules for drama." I guess my real question is: Who has written what is a "good play" that breaks his rules successfully?


arcticactor said...

Hmm -- Rule #1 seems to be a reversal of opinion for Mamet. He may hold this as a rule now, but in "True and False" he says that plays are better read than performed. Of course, in the context of that book, he was just trying to illustrate the primacy of the writer (another fun argument). But he held the exact opposite of Rule #1 as some axiomatic truth back in 1997.

I used to bind Mamet and Albee into the same lot, mostly because of their shrill anti-actor biases. But Mamet's insistance on concrete stage directions ("She pulls out a revolver") would pretty much cut out all of Albee's works from the Good Play List, wouldn't it? The "pre-literate poetry of pure intention" can be found all over Albee's work -- prescribed by the abstract stage directions/interpretation notes Mamet now forbids.

frank's wild lunch said...

Rule #2: Any spoken line of dialogue that is not written for the express purpose of furthering the plot reduces the quality of the play.

This statement is absurd and doesn't even merit an argument. How would the work of our greatest playwrights fare with strict application of that rule? How would Mamet fare?

Ian said...

Rule #1 makes no sense - technically, I can "perform" anything, including the phone book. It may suck hind titty more than anything imaginable, but whatever you choose to perform is "performable", even if no one would want to watch the results. Look what Mary Zimmerman and her company did with da Vinci's notebooks.

Shakespeare demonstrates repeatedly and at length that Rules #2 and 3 are a collective crock of caca, but since Mamet ignores Shakespeare and thus spends so much of his time trying to reinvent the wheel, he probably doesn't know this.

'Nuff said.

hpmelon said...

I have been reading here for a while, but never commented. I was so glad to see someone else pick up on this. Sorry I am late coming into the fold on this one..but if you want my 2 cents you can go here...


Waylon Wood said...

I think old playwrights tend to paint themselves into tight, philosophic corners. This from Mamet who wrote a beautiful piece on the death of Williams. He seems to have rejected anything, but his own opinion...and where are these brilliant plays?

I suppose that he's become like Strasberg. Next he'll be calling us like children to surround him and teach if we can be taught. Otherwise, we are all outsiders and...Williams knew something of that by god.

I'd rather sit through a mediocre "Night of the Iguana" than a well-received "Boston Marriage" any day. Yes. We know every boring intention. Doesn't heighten that play at all. Mamet...where are your plays? Or will you live the rest of your age resting on your early plays?