How David Mamet Abandoned His Art

Latest Work Uses Pretzel Logic and Fear-Mongering

By Joshua Furst

Published December 21, 2012, issue of December 28, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

If I understand him correctly, he believes art is a place where moral verdicts are rendered, and its purpose is to lead its audience toward seeing the justice in the author’s beliefs. By those lights, “The Anarchist” is a fair example of how he’s translating this aesthetic stance to the stage.

The simple premise of the new play is that an elderly woman who was once a member of a politically radical group and has been in jail for decades after having killed two people in a robbery is up for parole. The play consists of an interview she gives to the prison official whose job it is to recommend whether she should or should not be released.

There’s not a lot of drama here, but Mamet seems uninterested in drama at this stage in his career. His late plays are more like Socratic dialogues — or talmudic debates, if you prefer — for the stage. In “The Anarchist,” the big subject is whether crime consists of the act or the intention. It’s a worthy subject for debate. But within the first five minutes of the play, when ad hominem attacks on the French for being so, well, French, begin flying, one gets the sense that Mamet made up his mind about the subject long before he picked up his pen.

He isn’t so much interested in exploring both sides as he is in instructing us what to believe: People who dare to question the righteousness of the state are dangerous to our civil society, and they should be punished for these beliefs. For him there is no dilemma here, and thus, no drama, no tragedy — just a propped-up trial and sudden moralizing judgment.

The problem is that great art doesn’t pass moral judgment. It doesn’t bludgeon its audience into understanding that there is only one right answer, and that this right answer belongs to the artist. That’s the purview of position papers and, maybe, in a pinch, Ayn Rand’s wretched oeuvre. What great art does is point toward multiple possibilities and remind us that they all have their costs.

Mamet knows that. Or he used to know it.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.