Archive for David Mamet

You Never Were, Dave: a response to Mamet from 2008

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 23, 2011 by spinoza1111

In a Village Voice piece published back in 2008, the talented writer (but abominable person) David Mamet explained to us why he’s no longer a “brain dead liberal”. I’d heard that line before from any number of newly minted property owning Yuppies and was astonished to learn that Dave thought he was being original. Here is what I wrote in response, and sent to the Voice…it wasn’t printed. I have added and emended to reflect my own experience acting Mamet.

David Mamet, in his March 11 2008 essay “Why I am no longer a brain dead liberal”, makes some elementary mistakes.

Did JFK “start the Vietnam war”, Dave? No. Although Kennedy was a schemer, a private and rather conservative and wealth-dominated press having elected him and not the more principled Adlai, Chomsky points out that the war started on Eisenhower’s watch.

Mamet claims that the USA has a lot of “social mobility”.

Social mobility in the USA in the large is nonexistent, and more so if you’re not white. Most of the guys who were flogging real estate alongside Mamet in the 1970s, on whom he based his play Glengarry Glen Ross, are either still hustling, or pushing up daisies. Their children after them are bike messengers and count themselves lucky to escape the general corporate curse, in Chicago and elsewhere.

But most of all, Mamet’s attempt to play Paul at Tarsus, to experience a conversion, and to have us all applaud him is as ancient as a vaudeville joke.

That was no lady: that was my wife. I was wounded at Inchon! Have a scar? No thanks, I don’t smoke!

Mamet is behind the curve, if he’s trying to be fashionable: saying one’s no longer a liberal, but one is still a hip and funny guy after all, has been the rage for a very long time in behavioral sinks including the fashionable arondissements of New York and Chicago. My drinking buddies at the Old Town Ale House pulled that shit all the time in the 1970s.

Even a waterfly like Dennis Miller pulled that stunt after he became wealthy. It’s an old shtick: there’s a sign on a casino in Wisconsin: enter a Democrat, leave a Republican.

In a behavioral sink, in the fashionable arondissement, it’s a great line for picking up a drunk chick in my direct experience, but merely because, as Sue Sontag pointed out, Fascism exerts a sort of Fascination, especially on drunk chicks.

The ape in all of us, and the ape in chicks, comes out after a few blasts. That’s why the devil’s advocate, like Christopher Hitchens, is in demand. He makes us hard. He makes them wet.

Also, his adepts can emerge from the fashionable bar and step over dying children without remorse. It’s a skill that before the 1980s, that watershed, was cultivated in Calcutta…not the USA.

Do the math. As early as 1961, the “proletarian tough guy”, Bertolt Brecht, who used leftie politics to be able to treat people like shit, was already growing stale. The ape in all of us (with whom Mamet has more than a nodding acquaintance) needed a new way to display his dominance.

In America, behind as it was in fact the curve, this was a gesture that had appeared in Europe forty years before. I refer of course to the neo artistic conservatism of Eliot, Prokofiev and Picasso, who after their embourgeoisment “revived” traditional forms, in effect licensing the revival of traditional beliefs in a selective and stylish way, which is why you then get de Lempicka and Dali and Riefenstahl…hip and Fascinating Fascism, in a word.

The fact being that David Mamet, any more than Dennis Miller, never was a “liberal”. “Liberals” were the sort of guy who bravely went to fight Franco and returned to be harassed by HUAC. “Liberals” were the sort of guy who faced down the bosses, the mob, and Stalinists in labor unions. “Liberals” were gals who fought for reproductive freedom and got shit for it. “Liberals” were college administrators hounded to hell because they simultaneously maintained the rights of their draft-age students to protest the war AND the university to function without disruption by either cops or weathermen SDS punks.

David Mamet instead was damaged goods when he burst on the scene. He’d seen, as I saw, the dark side of man in crappy little jobs at crappy little firms which he portrayed in Glengarry Glen Ross. As a result, his plays, while they work as theater (especially when you get a talented guy like me to play them), are unreadable and foul on the printed page. Furthermore, there is in his work a psychotic split between the essays, which are urbane and sensitive, and the plays, which are excessively violent and usually sexist.

Yes, they portray real life. But to make Mamet work as an actor I had to put in Adorno’s unimaged redemption by tearing up the worthless check, saying Kaddish, responding to Roma and exiting with dignity. I had to fight for this shot of redemption saying this, insofar as it’s about Levene, is not the Jew of Malta, it’s the Merchant of Venice. I had to do this in excess of Mamet’s probable intention. Mamet probably wanted this shtick out, I put it back in, and more than one audience member said I was the best actor in the damn show.

The problem is that recognizing the ape should mean doing something to recover the glassy essence but it seems that a sort of American Kristallnacht made that shtick not the sort of boffo box office that Mamet wants above all. Culture asks us to identify with Levene. Entertainment asks people to identify with Alec Baldwin’s Blake and “third prize is you’re fired”.

You do have to be careful. I didn’t want the audience to sympathize with Levene…just identify with him to some extent.

Mamet has refused to give permission to an all-female group to put on Glengarry Glen Ross although structurally, the absence of sexual difference in the all-male play means it would work as some sort of all-gal lesbo mud wrestling match. Mamet in other words has a serious problem with the Goddess within him and for this reason his plays, rather than healing the very real wounds of people who haven’t made the big time as he has and still are flogging real-estate, subject them to sales presentations which, instead of avoiding the abuse in Glengarry, vomit little chunks of it, because the lead shitbag has seen the film and he thought Alec Baldwin was sooooo cool.

My fat pal Adorno discovered this, but as Falstaff said, wisdom cries out in the streets and no man pays it mind. When Adorno helped to make anti-anti-Semitism films for the B’nai Brith and Anti-Defamation league in the 1940s, audience testing discovered that the audience just loved the funny anti-semite. When Francis Ford Coppola tried to portray the lunacy of war in Robert Duvall’s “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”, the “smell of napalm” became a cool catchphrase in countless dickless offices.

Third prize is you’re fired, CHUMP. And Dave, you’re not a liberal? I’ll alert the media.

You never were, Dave, you never were.

Fascinating Fascism puts butts in seats whatever the intention of the *auteur*. Francis Ford Coppola didn’t drive Martin Sheen to drink in the Phillipines so that idiots could drive to work with The Ride of the Valkyries on the eight-track and riff out on the smell of napalm in the morning and vote for Reagan, but that’s how it works.

Mamet may say, well, screw you, art for art’s sake. But, hey, ok, and fair enough: screw you, Dave: your essay wasn’t art for art’s sake. Sure, it doesn’t promote virtue and happiness and healing. The problem is that it positively, in a gesture that isn’t l’art pour l’art, promotes badness and sadness and more and more of the same rather more illiberal shit.

I haven’t seen Mamet’s new play. I don’t get out much. But it sure sounds like he really sticks it women and liberals. Boy, that guy can sure speak truth to powerlessness and kick people when they are down. Boy, that Mickey Spillane sure can write.

Paddy Chayefsky, in a forgotten teleplay, has the guys standing around the neighborhood. They celebrate the writings of Mickey Spillane who shows you what to do with dames, especially Communist dames and maybe liberals too. Mike Hammer shoots her in the stomach and when she’s dyin’, she says, aw gee, Mike, whydja do that and he says cause he wanted to.

Of course, Paddy Chayefsky, a liberal, saw through the guys on the street corner and has Marty call the ugly dame who likes him and whom he likes and get a life. He could not see the destruction, primarily at the hands of the denizens of the fashionable arondissements, of the New Deal which empowered guys like Marty to have a life, a destruction which killed my relatives in Jersey as they expired whimpering in a physically and psychologically toxic dump, although he did see clearly enough as the screenwriter of the film Network where we were headed.

In David Mamet’s pseudo tough essay, we get Spillane “Lite” and we’re supposed to think this is quality shit. It works as theater but as opinion, well, Dave: as they say in the Army, opinions are like assholes: everyone’s got one.

I dunno, whaddya wanna do tonight?


Sheldon Levene says the Kaddish

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 17, 2011 by spinoza1111

Photo, production of Glengarry Glen Ross dir. by Christina deCoursey, Fringe Theater, Hong Kong, March 2011

The end of Glengarry was an emotional wringer. Williamson says “fuck you”, I collapse, walk to the front of the stage, and tear up the check, break down, say “praised lauded exalted magnified” to myself and get it together enough to respond to Roma and give the cop a final, Promethean glare.

The actress who played the cop still hasn’t forgiven me That Look since I was supposed to be that Pheminist Phigure of Phun, the “broken man”, the silenced, the laid-off, the discarded. The failed Stalin who we can blame for all of our troubles when “we are sick in fortune”, as the Bastard says in Lear.

Nyah ha ha. I said this is the Merchant of Venice, not the Jew of Malta, and that I would be damned if Levene didn’t know the shot.

Photo, production of Glengarry Glen Ross dir. by Christina deCoursey, Fringe Theater, Hong Kong, March 2011

My take on this matter was that theater people and academics may think at some level that a mere salesman would not understand his plight as does Lear.

But I went to Roosevelt University with poor, tough, smart Jews who became commodity brokers and salesmen and I’d say that tragic heroes of the lower middle class like Sheldon Levene and Willie Loman somehow know without being able to put it into words. Which is precisely where your real intellectual finds himself at the end of the day:

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen

יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא
בְּעָלְמָא דִּי בְרָא כִרְעוּתֵהּ

Get the Chalk

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 16, 2011 by spinoza1111

Glengarry Glen Ross, March 2011, Fringe Theater: get the chalk I closed ’em. The lovely and talented Nicole West as Ricky Roma: the lovely and talented Shirley Sheung as Aaronow.

Icarus Levene

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 1, 2011 by spinoza1111

Not only has there been absolutely no follow on paid work for my considerable amount of unpaid work playing Sheldon Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross last March, the director hasn’t accepted my Facebook Friend request. My WTF postings and intensity may have wearied her.

However, I did form a solid friendship with the leading lady who’s a great contact in theater and ten times the real thing.

I was called the best actor in the play by more than one person including directors but basically so what. My onstage energy is of a piece with my writing and art. It’s daemonic in the old Greek sense and no matter how classical, it undercuts the established order; WH Auden shows how much of Greek verse undercut the established order while seeming to celebrate it in his old introduction to the old Viking Portable Greek Reader.

But basically so what. Outside of an institutional framework adequate to contain me (they’d have to start paying me) most people, like the seamen in Auden’s poem about Icarus, Musée des Beaux Arts, have somewhere to get to, a degree, a job, the grave, and sail calmly on, or not if my intensity has disturbed.

I was certainly happy to be of use. I’m never “unemployed” though I lost a full time job, suddenly, unfairly, illegally last Aug 31 as related elsewhere, since my theory is that of the Third World, “bullshit you’re unemployed, you get out there and vend Marlboros, I will get you some from my brother, your uncle Abdul.

The Economist points this out: there is no unemployment in the developing world for there is no unemployment insurance. I can see where conservatism as barbarism could be espoused by Lozi/Lao-T’se: “o end unemployment insurance and there will be no unemployment, end health insurance and the bones of the people will be strengthened, end welfare as we know it and the people will fare well”.

The point is to create and to use one’s proven ability to meet goals in practical affairs even as the lights go out.

Glengarry Glen Ross: final notes on playing Levene

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 20, 2011 by spinoza1111

The run has ended. Most evening performances were sold out, it appears and all performances were well-attended.

I played Sheldon “The Machine” Levene in a bespoke dark grey suit; the only reason I can afford bespoke is that I live in Hong Kong and was lucky to find Bobby’s Fashions on the Carnarvon Road in Tsim Sha Shue.

I was selected to play a “leading” role (Levene has the largest number of lines and the play is his de-centered, drive-by tragedy) through a fluke as described below.

I suffered agonies last Tuesday, opening night, for my only previous onstage experience had been the “Richard III seduces the Lady Anne” scene in reader’s theater. I had literally no idea whether the lines would come or the lines would go, and I’d had great difficulties in memorization until a cast member, who’s studied pro theater extensively, demonstrated muscle memory.

Although my dance training helps, I was the largest object on a small set in the Fringe Theater and had no idea whether my native clumsiness, which I was hoping against hope would be counteracted by my dance practice, would cause me to knock over the flimsy set or fall, with a despairing cry, into the orchestra…fortunately, there was no orchestra, and all went well.

Indeed, with the approval of the director, I’d “choreographed” Levene’s entrance in scene 5 (“get the chalk, I closed the cocksucker”) as a Baryshnikov leap. Then, last Monday, I arrived backstage at the Fringe and, to my horror, I realized that I had two launching pads for this stunt, both of them built by foul trolls from the Dark Ages.

I could squeeze between the front board of the back stage, over a strut, and run first to the left and forward, and then, turn, and leap, hopefully not crashing into the coffee machine.

But this would mean that the audience would first here my hoofbeats unless I said “get the chalk” more than once (something that Jack Lemmon does in the film), and it was also a longer and therefore statistically more perilous stunt.

So, I went into a box out of audience line of sight behind the “bar”. For seven shows running in five days, I would either take a half seen leap over the box’s strut or run round it, push off with the left foot, and land in the middle of the cast who, fortunately enough, knew I was due to land just after Roma gets off her lines about “Vishnu and Siva”.

I lined up with a seam on the floor that was down stage of the coffee machine and arrived safely each time. Nyah ha ha. Barishnikov does it in tights, I do it in a business suit.

Muscle memory and dance-inspired delivery of Levene’s complex lines were the key. I waited for the “Williamson” actor, the lovely and talented Carman Ng, to say the word “marshal” as in “marshal the leads” and broke out into a dance of mockery and frustration because the ordinary slob knows then the language is being trashed by management-speak.

“Marshal the leads? What the fuck, what bus did you get off of, we’re here to fucking sell.”

The parade marshal’s gesture I then turn into an unspeakably vulgar Chicago gesture that means “you’re jerkin’ me off” that produced titters and gasps in some shows.

My biggest fans in the seven audiences were large, jolly Western men. One said to my line “they ain’t even been in the office yet today”, “bullshit, they have too!” because in the production, scene 1 (Blake’s abusive sales lecture) flows direct into scene 2 (Levene begs Williamson for good leads).

After expressing fear and frustration with Moss and Aaronow in scene 1, I had to stay on stage, walk to a stool practically within inches of the first audience row, sort of crumple in frustration, but then (since when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro) go direct into my attempt to sales-talk Williamson: “Jane, Jane, Jane, ok, look, the Glengarry Leads, you’re sending Roma out.”

In fact the crumple on the stool between scene 1 and 2 was designed by me, with the director’s approval of course, as a foreshadowing of the way, in scene 5, I collapse, in sobs, after getting a “fuck you” in response to “my daughter”.

That scene 5 business was an emotional wringer. I put my head in my hands and let it out. I then realize Roma is in the room. I take a deep breath, inches, in full house productions, from the front row and silently vocalize the Kaddish words “praised lauded magnified exalted”; I’m not Jewish but Levene and Mamet are.

I followed this with barely perceptible “dovening”, the back and forward rocking of the Jewish prayer. Then stillness…Roma is saying, “we’re a dying breed”. The preparation permitted me to grin sadly when Roma refers to the way she and I, in the persona of D Ray Morton, had fooled Lingk.

Doing “D Ray Morton”, the phony “Vice President of European Sales and Service for American Express” was also tough, because I have to turn in a heartbeat from addressing the world on the iniquities of Mitch and Murray to listening to Roma tell me what to do.

I should have had my head examined for doing this, but it appears that “I did it, I did it, like I was taught, like I used to do, I did it.” Money? It didn’t cost me anything, as Henslowe promises the lads in Shakespeare in Love, and it was a free class in acting that will help me to get film work.

Levene’s management and motivation speak has to be delivered by speaking the lines not only with 100% accuracy (something which I did not attain in all performances) but also with rapid shifting as if you are driving a manual transmission car in the mountains at 90 mph.

Mamet did not write “No, Jane, no. Let’s wait, let’s back up here. I did-will you please? Wait a second please” as a sort of general guideline, more as atonal music which demands perfection.

Levene alternates fragments with highly grammatical and rather complex management/motivation-speak. When Williamson mockingly says “you want something off the B list”, it being an open secret in the office that the B list contains deadbeats and “Indians”, Levene, who’s invested in the idea that it’s fundamentally a fair game, first explodes, in my version and then says, precisely, “At the very least, that I am entitled to, if I am still working here, which for the moment I guess I am.”

A “sentence diagram” or “parse tree” of this would show it to be above the complexity of Moss’s lines to Aaronow. In Scene 2, Moss gets Aaronow to be an accessory before the fact by means of very short, step by step lines; he lets her know of a planned crime, he gets her to promise to not go to the police.

Whereas Levene in my version, stands, legs apart, suit jacket unbuttoned, arms akimbo in a classic film noir “men in the city” pose and clearly lets Williamson know that he stands on a platform, while using the prepositional phrase “for the moment” to convey the fact that he, Levene, knows the score:

How overcome this dire Calamity,
What reinforcement we may gain from Hope,
If not what resolution from despare.

(Milton, Paradise Lost)

Mamet appears to me at this point to have designed scene 2 and 5 as a matched set. In both, for example, Levene has to pull out his wallet, in scene 2 to see if he can pay Williamson’s demand, in scene 5 to offer Williamson some of the money Levene’s made from the caper.

On the Hong Kong stage, the lights illumine our more colorful money and I could only hope my thin wad of pink one hundreds would evoke, in scene 5, a stack of Hong Kong thousand dollar bills.

But in scene 5, Levene also has to be still, and react subtly, to support Roma to build their relationship to the point where it’s believable that Roma (whose affability is real but completely in self-interest) would try to intervene with Baylen the cop.

Was I trying to make a Statement? I dunno. I remember stacking books on sales and accounting in the Roosevelt University bookstore because steelworkers of the 1950s wanted their kids to have respectable jobs. Communism exalts the manual laborer, only C Wright Mills gave the white collar true recognition.

I hope, if one can hope for the subjunctive and counter-factual, that Adorno would have liked it.

Did it work? Well, do we all have to be shrewd, self-interested, focused tough cookies, Adorno’s Tough Baby? Must we always use language in Habermas’ second sense, twisting it to serve an end, and never using it to communicate the truth, even of a work situation, with our work-mates, even as Jules, in Pulp Fiction, says, we should have shotguns for this job, my days of forgettin’ is over?

I do know this. My next role shall “condole in some measure”, I’m thinking of Flopsy Bunny for children’s theater, or Ariel in the Tempest.

Glengarry Glen Pulp Fiction

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 15, 2011 by spinoza1111

Who the fuck is Zed?
Zed’s fucking dead, baby.

Glengarry Glen Ross: in Adam’s Fall We Sinn-ed All

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 13, 2011 by spinoza1111

The production, in which I play Sheldon “The Machine” Levene, opens in Hong Kong at the Fringe Theater next to the Foreign Correspondents Club on Tue March 15.

The Ides of March are come.
Aye Caesar, but not gone. (Shakespeare)

I approach this date with trepidation, for the goat song is high magick. I start to regress and assign the particular pen I use in the “sales presentation” a name, such as Mr. Pen.

I have to create headlong energy as Sheldon Levene, the fast-talking salesman who takes the fast-talking fall. In the denoument the cop needs to manhandle me more, since “Roma” is hanging on to me trying to get me to agree to go out for a smoke. She doesn’t know that I am approaching my Doom.

Yes, Roma and some other characters are women. Basically, I have been more or less lured into lending an originary, American, Chicago touch to some sort of feminist statement with a bunch of dizzy dames all of whom I love. I’m game, but Mamet is gonna throw a rod. Good.

I want the audience subconscious to remember the Fall of Man in the old mystery play, the old painting, with devils and angels wrestling over the soul. Durch Adam’s Fall, ist ganz verderbt.

“But the individual, whom need has made guilty, and who has become his be-all and end-all, falls victim to the illusion of an individualistic society and fails to know himself – a consequence which Hegel perceived, and perceived most acutely in the very moment in which he was colluding in reactionary abuse. Society is in the wrong vis a vis the individual in its universal claims, but it is also in the right since the individual hypostatizes the social principle of pure, unreflecting self-preservation, the very principle embodying the bad universal.”

– TW Adorno, History and Freedom