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Who is David Mamet?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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David Mamet was born in 1947 in Illinois, USA. He is considered one of America’s, if not the world's, greatest playwrights. His style of dialogue has become so recognizable that it is now termed “Mametspeak”. The language he uses is more than naturalistic; it is a poetic version of everyday street language. David Mamet is not only a playwright, but also a highly respected author and director.

David Mamet studied at Goddard College in Vermont, and then at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater in New York. He is a founding member of the Atlantic Theatre Company and regularly lectures there. He has also taught at Yale Drama School and New York University.

Mamet gained recognition with plays such as Sexual Perversity in Chicago (1974), The Duck Variations (1976) and American Buffalo (1977). His plays are dark, character driven dramas with strong male leads. The dialogue he uses is highly realistic, with tension building steadily within the play. He often writes plays centered around everyday people such as salesmen or small time drifters.

David Mamet won a Pulitzer Prize for one of his most famous plays, Glengarry Glenross, in 1984. The play centered on a group of real estate salesmen and focused on the despair and impotence the men felt at losing sales and money. It also showed the underhanded tricks salesmen use to complete deals and the lengths they go to make money. A savage look at business practices, Glengarry Glenross was filmed in 1992 using Mamet’s own script. It had an all star cast, including Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Jack Lemmon and Alec Baldwin.

David Mamet began screenwriting in 1981 with a re-make of The Postman Always Rings Twice. His script for this film was able to show sexuality and violence in a way that the original film could not. He has also written screenplays for such famous films as The Untouchables, Hoffa, Malcolm X and The Verdict. To have the name David Mamet on a script is usually a guarantee of quality dialogue and realistic characters.

Mamet often writes film scripts with an eye on directing them himself. In 1987, he received critical acclaim for his film House of Games. The film focused on an elaborate con game played on a psychologist by his then-wife Lindsay Crouse. A number of David Mamet films take con men and the webs they weave as a central theme.

Mamet’s style of writing is often imitated. At the 1998 Sundance festival, Mamet commented on the number of Mamet rip-offs there seemed to be. However, it will be a long time before any of these David Mamet imitators can match the numerous writing awards he has gathered over the years.

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