Tony Mamet wasn’t around when his older brother David spent a summer on the Great Lakes. In fact, he wasn’t even born yet. (The two are actually half-brothers.) But audiences can essentially see the younger Mamet play the celebrated playwright in “Lakeboat,” the new film of the 1981 play spawned by that summer.
In “Lakeboat,” directed by longtime Mamet collaborator Joe Mantegna, Tony Mamet (who also coproduced the film) plays Dale Katzman, an Ivy League grad student who forgoes his upper-class trappings and spends a summer on one of the steel freighters that trudges up and down the Great Lakes. While on the boat, he watches and learns from a motley crew of lifers, alternately seduced and repulsed by the macho camaraderie. The rest of the cast is made up of what Tony Mamet calls “grumpy old men”: Charles Durning, George Wendt, Robert Forster, Peter Falk, Chicago theater veterans J.J. Johnston and Jack Wallace — and Denis Leary, who Mamet says is “so grumpy that he’s an honorary old guy.”
Tony says he was forbidden from seeing David’s plays as a kid, so he read the published scripts that were lying around the house. But “Lakeboat” appears to have been fated: Back in 1984, when Mantegna, Wallace and Johnston were performing in Glengarry Glen Ross, they saw the younger Mamet and suggested doing the play with him. (“Lakeboat” actually came into being back in 1970, when Mamet was a professor at Vermont’s Marlboro College; he gave Mantegna and Wallace some of the material a few years later for an Equity showcase.) Tony Mamet remembered the suggestion years later and set the wheels in motion for a Mantegna-directed L.A. stage production in 1994, costarring Wallace and Johnston.
He says he kept his older brother very much in mind during the “Lakeboat” shoot. “Whether consciously or not, I was kind of playing it like Dave,” he says. “I approached scenes the way I thought Dave would.”
One thing that stands out about “Lakeboat” is that, unlike so many coming-of-age movies, the protagonist isn’t converted or changed in any radical way. The things Dale sees and does certainly have an effect on him, but he’s essentially the same person he was at the beginning of the film. Tony Mamet says this is how it should be. “Joe and I didn’t think Dave would emulate any of those guys. We never approached it like a story about a life-changing experience.” In fact, the character played by Forster — a middle-aged guy who envies Dale’s youth and potential — undergoes more of a transformation in the film. With a budget under $5 million, Mamet found himself wearing his producer hat an awful lot — including between takes. He says he had to focus more on producing than on acting. “The financial pressure was greater for me than the artistic pressure,” he says. “We were constantly negotiating about: Can we do another take? Should we do another set-up, or do we have that angle already?” He says it was fortunate that his character is so passive and that he was surrounded with such a high caliber of actors: “With a guy like Robert Forster or Charles Durning, you just have to show up. You don’t have to do a lot of work with guys like that.”
“Lakeboat” is currently playing at the Screening Room in New York. The limited run may be extended, depending on audience interest.
The response to my question about the various film properties making their way to Broadway was pretty impressive. A few of you were good enough to add “Bullets Over Broadway,” which co-screenwriter Douglas McGrath is apparently adapting, to the list. After adding them all up, here are the shows you thought would reach New York, in order of likelihood:
1. “Thoroughly Modern Millie”
2. “Sweet Smell of Success”
3. “Summer of ’42”
5. “Bullets Over Broadway”
7. “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T”
Besides the first two, I personally think “Hairspray” and “Summer of ’42” have a good chance. But who knows? The biggest musicals of the last two years were supposed to be Wise Guys and The Visit.
So I just got back from Follies, and I couldn’t help but think about that letter in last Sunday’s New York Times. In case you didn’t see it, John Springer (who handled Hal Prince’s publicity at the time) described an initial push to make a “Follies” movie during the original run. I did a little bit of research and came up dry — no mention in the books by Craig Zadan, Martin Gottfried or Meryle Secrest — so it’s unclear how far along this project really got. Anyway, among the names mentioned in the Times letter were Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson and Elizabeth Taylor. Could they still do this today? Does Hollywood still have enough grande dames to pull something like this off, besides Lauren Bacall and Anne Bancroft? Just for fun, take a crack at casting the “Follies” movie. Budget is no object. (This isn’t the Roundabout, after all.)
Cutting-Room Floor: As you may have seen in Playbill On-Line, “Saltwater,” an adaptation of Conor McPherson’s This Lime Tree Bower, will be part of the Walter Reade Theater’s “Contemporary Films from Britain” series, airing through April 26. Also included is “Very Annie-Mary,” which bills itself as inspired by The Sound of Music (shades of “Dancer in the Dark”?). ... For those of you who missed it the first time around, New York’s Channel 13 is rebroadcasting The Man Who Came to Dinner on April 14. Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles is still up for April 29 — the same night as CBS airs its live “On Golden Pond” with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. ... “The Dish,” featuring original Follies star John McMartin, opens wide on April 27. And no fewer than three current Broadway stars will also open in movies on April 27. “One Night at McCool’s” has one of the worst previews I’ve ever seen, but Reba McEntire apparently has a small part in it. And if you’re looking for a truly surreal evening, follow The Invention of Love up with a late showing of the Sylvester Stallone race-car opus “Driven.” Both star Robert Sean Leonard; the latter also features current Cabaret star Gina Gershon.
My Favorite Thought: Mark narrowed his list of potential David Mamet movies down to two:
“I think Edmond and The Woods are the two Mamet pieces that should definitely find their way to the silver screen. Edmond especially would benefit from being placed into film, as it changes locations so often. It could be handled as the depiction of psychological breakdown of one man that it really is, like ‘Falling Down’ with Michael Douglas. As for The Woods, films like ‘My Dinner With Andre’ and the upcoming ‘Chinese Coffee’ with Al Pacino and Jerry Orbach should prove that two-person dramas can translate well to film. All you’d need would be a camera, a nice cabin in the woods, two great actors & bingo! Even I could put that together. Hmmmmm ...”
And Philip brought two other properties to my attention:
“My guess as to which film from your list might make a Broadway ‘moviecal’ in the next two years is none. I believe that due to financial risks, a U.S economic slowdown, creative differences and/or lack of theater space, the next moviecal to arrive will be a transfer from London of The Witches of Eastwick.
“Since Disney has revamped Broadway to target children, I suggest that some ambitious producer make ‘Dennis The Menace’ into a musical. He's been done in comic strips, television and movies, so why not the Broadway musical? Alice Ripley and John Benjamin Hickey could play the Mitchells, and Philip Bosco would make a great Mr. Wilson.”
Your Thoughts: It sounds like someone should get cracking on The Woods before Mark gets himself a camera. Are any of those predictions way off in terms of films coming to Broadway? What would A.E. Houseman have to say about “Driven”? And what are your thoughts on that “Follies” movie?
Eric Grode is New York bureau chief of Show Music magazine, assistant editor of The Sondheim Review and a theater critic for Back Stage.