The private life of prolific playwright, screenwriter, director, novelist and essayist Mamet remains private in a biography focused on his work.
Outlining his themes in an introductory essay that could be a stand-alone piece, Nadel (Tom Stoppard, 2002, etc.) in subsequent chapters follows a fairly straightforward chronology. Born in Chicago in 1947, Mamet had a contentious relationship with his tough lawyer father; they reconciled much later. He spent most of his youth reading (Dreiser and Cather were favorites), practicing the piano and immersing himself in the wondrous world of Chicago theater. After high school, he headed for Vermont, attended Goddard College, worked on a Great Lakes ship in the summer and found himself ever more deeply in love with the stage. Nadel examines the early influences of acting theorists Richard Boleslavsky and Sanford Meisner on Mamet, then begins a play-by-play, film-by-film exegesis. Nadel tells us a bit about the playwright’s two marriages— to actress Lindsay Crouse from 1977 to 1990, and since 1991 to actress Rebecca Pidgeon, 19 years his junior—but he’s either not very interested in Mamet’s personal life or simply couldn’t turn up much. In any case, he keeps the focus on Mamet’s work, examining the magic of his rough dialogue, his emerging consciousness of his Judaism, his fascination with the macho worlds of knives and guns and mercenaries, his ferocious work ethic, his disdain for critics and his Faustian bargains with the Hollywood producers he reviles on page and stage. Nadel sees Mamet as a moral writer, a dramatist who sees con games everywhere and, like Hamlet, is driven nearly mad by “seeming” and lying.
A trifle repetitious, but a sympathetic, scholarly and often penetrating examination of an American original.