PLAYBILL PICKS: David Mamet's Five Most Memorable Men

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
25 Oct 2012

David Mamet
David Mamet
Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

Actors Liev Schreiber, Raúl Esparza, Jordan Lage, William H. Macy and directors Gregory Mosher and Neil Pepe — artists associated with productions of David Mamet's plays — comment on Playbill's gallery of the most indelible male characters in the playwright's canon. Who's your favorite menacing Mamet man?


This feature could have been titled "David Mamet's Five Most Memorable Characters," and the same names would probably have turned up, so dominated by the male of the species is the Mamet canon. From the time the playwright burst upon the American stage with American Buffalo — the first Mamet play most theatregoers saw, and still one of his most produced — the Chicago-born author's fictional stomping ground has been a man's, man's, man's, man's world. American Buffalo sized up the desperate and doomed gambit of a trio of small-time crooks, all possessing a Y chromosome. There wasn't a skirt in sight. A Life in the Theatre, in 1977, looked at the trials and tribulation of two actors — two male actors. Edmond (1982) tracked a middle-aged married man as he bolts his staid life and embarks on a hellish descent into vice and criminality. Speed-the-Plow counts a woman — a secretary with no last name — among its figures, but the play is really about the challenged friendship between two Hollywood alpha males.

There are exceptions, of course. The Cryptogram featured a mother as its central character. The arch comedy Boston Marriage was about the possibly romantic relationship between two females at the turn of the 20th century. And Mamet's latest work for the stage, The Anarchist, due on Broadway in November, also has an all-female cast; Debra Winger plays a warden, and Patti LuPone an inmate.

Still, the prototypical Mamet play is more like Glengarry Glen Ross, which is also being produced on Broadway at the moment, in a production starring Al Pacino and Bobby Canavale. Women may as well not exist in the testosterone-heavy real estate office in which the 1984 drama largely takes place. There are seven characters, all hombres. In the play's cutthroat business environment, they can be evenly divided into predators and prey (with some predators becoming prey as the action proceeds). They brag, they boast, they bluster, and they curse. Oh, do they curse! Profanities are the nouns, verbs, adjectives and exclamations of their personal lexicon, and they can find a hundred meanings and variations in an F-bomb. Yet, for all their braggadocio, most of Mamet's men are panicked inside, aware the world and circumstances are closing in on them, and that their hard-won, hard-sold, hyper-male shell is the only thing that keeps them from cracking, their underbelly exposed to the heartless world.

Jordan Lage in Mamet's American Buffalo at Baltimore CenterStage.
photo by Richard Anderson

"These are roles that are not for the faint of heart," said Jordan Lage, who, as a founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company — which was created by Mamet, William H. Macy and others — has had the opportunity to act in many Mamet's plays, on Broadway and off. "An actor has to bring his A game to all of them. They are physically and vocally demanding and require 100 percent commitment and in-the-moment concentration. No timid thespians need apply here because the characters all require that the actor get up in the face of their scene partners in order to achieve what they want from them. No offense to the fellow players, but these guys aren't about nicety. The stakes are high for all of them, and rest assured, they are going for broke. That's David for you. Played well, balls out, the performance of these roles are thrilling for an audience. Finally, the roles' most important common denominator: they're all fun as hell to play and all immensely gratifying for actors who care about complex, profound, soul-stirring characters."

The staff got together and tagged those we thought the most memorable of Mamet's menfolk. We got some perspective from Mamet practitioners, including actors William H. Macy, Liev Schreiber, Raúl Esparza and directors Gregory Mosher and Neil Pepe. (They appear here in chronological order, the earliest creation first. Read on!)


1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 Next