This book reads like a drunken rant. So to loosely paraphrase Abe Lincoln, find out what brand of whiskey Mamet is drinking and give me a double.
Twenty-seven of playwright David Mamet's theatrical essays have been "organized", in no particular order, into a little book called THEATRE. The general subject matter is indeed the theatre, but with the topic drift between one essay and another no central premise can be discovered.
Lajos Egri fans know that the lack of a premise is the missing heart of bad playwriting. But nobody is suggesting that this book be adapted for the stage, so the reader can simply enjoy it for the wisdom it brings. And it is a very wise book. Be advised, with a book made up of rambling essays, the resulting review predictably also rambles, so in no particular order, my observations on Mamet's wisdom.
MAMET ON ACTING: Hit the final consonant, so you don't swallow the last two words of your speech. This alone will improve performances everywhere.
MAMET ON ACTING TRAINING: That famous acting schools are famous not because of the quality of their training but because they attracted super-talented people is undoubtedly true, but the training that perfects your voice and body could have gotten better attention. Mamet's comments about Sanford Meisner's technique are odd, considering how much of Meisner's approach is reflected in Mamet's writing. And while Meisner's repeating game may have never been finished by anybody, it's not without value, and I've watched children spontaneously engage in it.
MAMET ON THE "CULT" OF THE THEATRE: That the "Method" is nothing but psychobabble is a heresy that should have been stated a long time ago. The theatre is not a religion, it's a job, and Mamet's clear and workmanlike approach to that job is infinitely better than the mystical mumblings of the small cabal of leftish gurus who have dominated American theatre since the 1930's.
MAMET ON DIRECTORS: A lot of his dismissive comments about directors are applicable only to plays, and would be a disaster when applied to operettas or musicals. The magnificent contributions that people like Dorothy Danner, Joanne Akalaitis and Mike Nichols make with their direction can't be dismissed, and it would have been nice if Mamet had explored the differences between talented and untalented directors by example instead of pronunciamento.
MAMET ON THE INSTITUTIONAL THEATER: Anybody who has ever worked for a Children's Theatre or any LORT theatre will grimly agree with Mamet's observation that if the task of an artist is to create, the task of an institution is to continue. At some point, an institutional theatre becomes all about the administration, and the artists get shoved to the periphery. One can easily imagine a theatre made up of nothing but administrators that puts on various audience and community programs but never stages a single show, and indeed I know of two theatres that do just that. As Mamet points out, such programs are actually useless; if you're putting on exciting plays with exciting actors, you don't need an Audience Development Director, and if you attract an audience you don't need Audience Feedback meetings, the crowd was all the feedback you needed. Those who doubt this can take a look at the current (2010) Guthrie Theatre webpage. There are voluminous entries for the administrative staff and programs, and nary a word about the acting company. This at a theatre that was founded by Tyrone Guthrie to showcase talented actors in reparatory.
This is just a preview of some really valuable observations, and an admirable Mamet property is that he is the opposite of a theatre practitioner, eschewing theoretical discourse to explain what he does. Like the City of Brawny Shoulders he works in, Mamet's viewpoint is mercantilist. His standard of theatrical success - watch the box office - cannot be argued with. If you have no audience, who did you put the show on for? Are you mounting a play or engaging in an extended audition for the real play you want to get into?
For those who are comfortable where they are, this book probably won't be of much use. For those trapped in a particular "culture" of theatre, probably adopted from high school or college or wherever the first exposure to the stage was, this nifty little book provides a way out.