No More Mamets
We must take a hard look at how our own field participates in the creation of hate. If you believe that Trumpism is a threat to decency and democracy, we should look at how we produce decency. The theatre is a site of culture, a site for transmission of ideas. As such, it played key roles in both the abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century, and in the establishment of derogatory and dangerous stereotypes about people of color that persist today. We must understand that theatre is always political, whether implicitly or explicitly, and that what narratives we choose to promote is a political decision about whose stories deserve telling and get resources.
Just as we need to produce more women, LGBTQIA artists, and people of color (that is to say, more people who aren’t straight white men), we need to consider what plays should no longer be produced. This is not about political correctness. This is not about censorship. This is drawing a moral line that defines what is in and out of bounds in our culture.
Neither is this a call for a quota in representation—not about the identity of cultural producers. Rather we must examine the politics within plays. This is a call to move beyond what’s been occasionally derided as “identity politics,” but what might be better termed as a neoliberal diversity politics. That is, we need to meaningfully reckon with politics around identities, rather than offering up lip-service to them. Having a gay man at the helm of a project, for example, does us no good if that project is misogynist and white supremacist. Here, Hamilton provides an excellent (and more subtle) example: while it appears to pass a diversity test, it is a play that not only tells a normative, nationalist, hero narrative, but offers a loving, uncritical portrayal that celebrates wealthy white slaveholders by using black and Latinx aesthetics.
David Mamet’s plays provide an excellent example of the work that we must cast out. In the so-called post-truth era, Mamet has been lying for years. If we count his plays, like Oleanna, which carefully construct scenarios that don’t exist in order to flip real-world power relations on their head, he’s been doing it for decades. While Shakespeare said, in the words of Hamlet, that the play should hold the mirror up to nature, Mamet would rather invent nature to suit his worldview. Mamet has written extensively about his shift from liberalism to conservatism, but his liberalism always rang hollow, as seen in his plays. Or, if you consider liberalism to be part of the problem, then his plays might demonstrate the vacuousness of that worldview.
Just as we need to produce more women, LGBTQIA artists, and people of color (that is to say, more people who aren’t straight white men), we need to consider what plays should no longer be produced.
Mamet’s Oleanna manufactures a fictional power dynamic in order to undermine feminism (it was the Anita Hill hearings that inspired him to finish the play). The play’s misogyny becomes literal violence in the third act. This should show that John, the university professor, gets everything he deserves, yet the play begs for sympathy with him—it is a “false” accusation, after all, that drives him to violent action. Mamet’s later play, Race, offers a similar treatment to its title subject.
Neil LaBute, too, does similar maneuvers. In The Shape of Things, he creates a straw man “feminist” who is more caricature than character. His Some Girl(s), too, is a misogynist fantasy: a man, given the genericizing and universalizing name Guy, visits his exes—and records the conversations for some future exploitation. In an afterword to Some Girl(s) introducing a deleted scene, where Guy faces a woman whom he sexually assaulted when she was a pre-teen, LaBute writes in his afterword for the play that “Guy (in the wrong hands) runs the risk of coming off as a self-serving, deceitful shit-head.” A remarkable concern that reveals LaBute’s politics, considering Guy is written as a self-serving, deceitful misogynist. The play’s sympathetic treatment of him makes not just for a misogynist character, but for a misogynist play.
Theatre…offers space for narratives that television and mainstream cinema do not. Whereas Hollywood relies on celebrity and is controlled by heavily monetized interests, theatres have the space to hire actors who look like America.
These plays deserve no place in the canon, nor in popular culture, and especially not in college production calendars. There remains room, of course, for critical study and, as in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' An Octoroon, critical creative interventions into such texts. An Octoroon takes on Dion Boucicault’s 1859 play The Octoroon, an abolitionist melodrama filled with the racist tropes of the day, transforming it into a new anti-racist work that reckons with theatre’s role in the construction of those tropes. We should and must contextualize these works as what they are.
Theatre, as an often small endeavor that relies more on community than on big names, offers space for narratives that television and mainstream cinema do not. Whereas Hollywood relies on celebrity and is controlled by heavily monetized interests, theatres have the space to hire actors who look like America. Where Hollywood makes blockbusters about action heroes, theatres have the space to produce plays about almost anything they like: we can have narratives about women, immigrants, workers, and queer people. We can produce plays by playwrights like Jacobs-Jenkins, Sarah Ruhl, Suzan-Lori Parks, Universes, Naomi Iizuka, Taylor Mac, and Sylvan Oswald to tell these stories.
We must assert our right to do so. We must help delineate what is in and out of bounds for our communities. Indeed, it is our duty as cultural producers to help define these limits, as we already participate implicitly in their formation. We must say:
No misogynist plays.
No racist plays.
No xenophobic plays.
No homophobic plays.
No transphobic plays.
And we can go further:
No plays but feminist plays.
No plays but anti-racist plays.
No plays but inclusive plays.
No plays but queer plays.
Like we witness John’s violence in Oleanna, we have seen the misogyny in these plays play out, actualized as violence, in our culture. We must no longer allow that violence to have a voice in the theatre. Mr. Trump, like Mamet, wasn’t really a conservative until a few years ago—when he decided to run for office. They’re both the product of the same culture: a culture which, rather than placing in the spotlight, we must hold the mirror up to.
These plays work insidiously in the service of hateful ideologies—Oleanna, Some Girl(s), and The Shape of Things in service of misogyny, and Race in service of white supremacy. They plant the seeds of these ideas, normalizing them, building a cultural foundation for racism and misogyny to flourish—for stage violence and metaphor to blossom into violence in our communities. To produce these plays or to teach them as masterful, without radical criticism, is to do the work of hateful men. Racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic plays belong in the dustbin of history. Let us put them there. We must draw a line and declare: no more Mamets!
The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here
No plays except for....
no misogynist plays...
no transphobic plays....
no this or that plays...
And you decide which is which?
Guess what - that's dictatorship. With YOU in charge. You are so lame with his site, and you pretend to stand against bigotry by representing it in force with your bigotry, You can't understand that, can you? By the way you can't reduce me to a political side and hate me by means of that - I dislike Mamet and all the conservative bullshit he accepted. But your statements are sheer propaganda that means nothing - and that is a danger to free society because vague statements about what is acceptable and what is not can easily be turned into oppression. This site is pathetic. Goodbye and good riddance.
I love Mamet's work; he has been one of the major inspirations in my life.
Let's keep producing his work. Besides, who gets to definitively decide if someone's play is homophobic or transphobic or racist? Let the audience decide that.
I don't want to waste my time watching a play whose sole message is that prejudice is bad. I'd rather watch a play that challenges my notions of prejudice and even dares to ask if, sometimes, it's acceptable or even necessary.
PS - I bet Christopher Durang gets a pass even though his plays, like Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, creates strawmen religious figures, just as big a sin as Labute.
I appreciate what you are trying to do here, but you kind of ask us to take your word for it that Labute and Mamet's work is inherently misogynist.
Any thought on accusations that Howlround's Jubilee project is discriminating against male playwrights by witholding federal funding to artists based on gender?
Hi Blufftonee. As a member of the Committee of the Jubliee, I wanted to share the Committee's response with you, which can be found https://jointhejubilee.org/.... I also want to quickly respond that the Jubilee is not "HowlRound's." HowlRound was kind enough at the outset to make space for us, the theatre practitioners that comprise the Committee, to host the Jubilee information on its website/platform. Since then, we have migrated off.
I appreciate the response and clarification, but this really does not address the issue of withholding funding based on gender. We cannot become so progressive that we become illiberal.
You cannot demand that all plays must follow certain ideological demands while claiming you are not calling for censorship. You are explicitly calling for specific artists to be blacklisted while claiming you are not doing so. This is madness.
I've never enjoyed Mamet, I find him to be an empty stylist with nothing to say. And LaBute more than deserves his ugly reputation. But I would never in a million years demand they be banished. The content of their work is irrelevant, we must stand by freedom of expression. You are not simply condemning these artists. You are actively against freedom of expression.
You are demanding that all work become propaganda and those that do not conform be silenced. This is a much bigger threat than the collected works of David and Neil.
In order for "freedom of expression" to work you have to have a sizable majority actively supporting it. This kind of thinking is in the ascendancy because any such majority appears to have been lost, which was ever only a delicate majority, and perhaps irrevocably, at least "here and now".
I have no idea what this means. Are you saying that majority support determines what can be expressed?
No. Rather that you must have a community supporting and invested in the idea of "freedom of expression" itself. The attitude on view in this article is by no means an anomaly, and therein lies the crux.
Reading through these comments and this piece, I think most of the comments are reacting to the title. I can't imagine that most people in the theater are actually opposed to producing feminist, anti-racist, inclusive, and queer plays. Instead, they are clinging to plays that they have found interesting or challenging, and reacting in a negative fashion to some idea of censure. However, as Matthew pointed out several times, choices are already being made, every season, every semester, about what plays are produced and taught. Making those choices more inclusive by rejecting plays that value misogyny or racism is not actually very radical, in my opinion.
I return often to what Ruth Bader Ginsburg said when asked how many women Supreme Court Justices would be enough. Her answer was nine. For decades, there were nine men on the court and no one blinked an eye. People are shocked at the thought of an all-women court, because it would be "unequal". However, it would truly only be unequal if there were nine women on the court for 250+ years. It is a correction of an injustice to stop producing misogynist and racist plays. Mamet and LaBute have been produced more than enough. I would love to see hundreds of years of plays that center and value a poor, black, queer, trans, woman's narrative. I can assure you that this would not create a monolith of culture that does not allow for other voices. Straight white men's voices are everywhere. They do not need a further platform.
Just a short comment on "Oleanna": I saw it at the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia in the early 1990s. Also in the audience was a friend who sang with me in a symphonic choir, an attorney specializing in employment cases. After the first act, he remarked that he had been mentally ticking off all of the things John had done in his first meeting with the student that would get him in trouble down the road.
I'm a little concerned about throwing out ALL of a given playwright's canon. Yes, "Oleanna" makes me seriously uncomfortable. (So does victim politics. When I was in college, feminism was a position of strength.) But I love Mamet's one-act "Dark Pony," a gentle poetic vignette of a father and daughter. And "Glengarry Glen Ross" hardly makes its male-dominated world attractive or desirable.
Yes, I saw a very good production of Mamet's _Cryptogram_ at Profiles Theater in Chicago. The play may well not be a masterpiece (I have not studied it) and the adult male lead was not a good actor.
Yet the play stands out for having the meatiest role for a boy that I've seen; truly I had not considered such a thing possible and the actor gave a stellar performance.
Mamet's psychologizing seemed a bit dated, and maybe was hampered by his hard right views which seem to have calcified with time.
Our job is to hold onto things and try to preserve them; time will only destroy these works on its own without added censorious help from us.
I'm not a fan of either of the playwrights sited, but labeling a play "racist" or "sexist" seems to me a pretty simple-minded notion of analytic criticism. I do agree that generally theatre people (or journalist/reviewers), though regarding ourselves as generally liberal, don't care that much about the inner ethical dynamics of a play. Things generally divide out to shows that are "pure fun" or that "make a statement" or that are full of "searing emotion," and I think we'd do well to question the accuracy of what's being portrayed. But that's what you do in the process of exploring the play or creating the play. One thing theatre can do is to enlarge our capacity for empathy, which includes seeing things from others' points of view, which includes those points of view the writer doesn't like for us to see. I'm not sure why Shakespeare wasn't included in the prohibited group: his plays do indeed hold a mirror up to nature, but reflecting power as it is, gender roles as they are, doesn't necessarily bring you greater ideological purity than Mamet: his genius, IMHO, is in writing characters from their own viewpoints, absolutely honest in those portraits. People have bee n trying for 400 years to figure out the "meaning" of those plays, but the power isn't in the message, it's in the human reality. And to be sure, he wasn't above "manipulation" of reality— Ah, this post is a muddle, but I'll post it anyway. I don't mind Mamet half as much as I loathe The Sound of Music. To each his own bone to pick.
I've been very inspired by Mamet, LaBute, and others, to write my own plays, with my own ideas and ideologies. Censorship is never good, write your own plays in response.
This is morally and intellectually indistinguishable from Rudy Giuliani trying to shut down offensive artwork on grounds of Christian propriety.
Well. You're gonna have to argue for this one, Freddie.
Matthew -- just want to say this is a really great and important argument. You can tell by how many people are upset by it! (In fact, I'm having a really lively -- respectful -- debate on Facebook right now about this.) Old habits die slow, and unfortunately there is a lot of eagerness to defend misogyny and other ills by their "artistic merits." But let me say it loud & clear, folks: calls for inclusion are not censorship, calls for liberation are not censorship. You cannot be oppressing if you are the oppressed. End of story.
Do we need to make a degenerate art show out of these straight white male cretins? Has it come down to that?
Your use of the word "should" gives me the shudders. Totalitarian. You have no right and I and millions of others will make sure you and your ilk never get it.
Matthew, also, I am noticing in your generation this complete lack of understanding of art. You can't understand the sex-power relationships in great texts like Mamet and Pinter. They aren't normalizing hate. Sorry. You think that by removing the representation that you are removing the thing itself. Sorry. Ambiguous art and art such as Mamet's are the only way humans can ritualistically deal with its animalisms in a civilized way.
You are the product of a terrible college system that has presented Deconstruction to you in the wrong way. For that I'm sorry. Funny. You'll hate my plays.
Louis-Ferdinand Celine was the best novelist of the 20th century. And a Fascist.
We should all reject ideologues such as yourself who decide whose pain is the most valid.
And I'm a liberal.
The problematic and troublesome irony of this essay is you are advancing a very fascist idea (book burning), and trying to convince people it stands against fascism. It sounds like you are confused as to what your role is as an artist. We typically create, not destroy. Limiting the scope of art is not going to help artists thrive. Artists thrive on creative freedom. It is completely foolhardy and dangerous to declare "no more (insert artist's name)!" I'm sure I don't have to remind you of the moral and logical pitfalls of blacklisting, guilt by association, and stereotyping, since you seem to have a good grip on why those are bad for society.
Please stop drawing battle lines where they are completely unnecessary. Every canvas starts out blank. This is a counter-productive argument that will only break people up into smaller tribes. You should agree that censorship doesn't fix anything, period, then find a better way to put your mind at ease. Or better yet, write or create a piece of art that speaks your mind. Whatever you do, resist the urge to inject the onstage drama into your real life. The two things are separate. "carefully constructing scenarios that don't exist" is what these men do professionally, is the entire point of doing it, and is such a silly academic thing to criticize or fear.
Because making great art is about having real courage to put a part of yourself out there. And I'll tell you, it takes zero courage to hide behind a screen and disparage the life's work of two award-winning and critically respected authors, only to dismiss them entirely and conveniently at the end. I see no strength in this argument, only a sad reflection of the limp brand of fascism it declares to abhor. The reason we don't do Uncle Tom's Cabin anymore isn't because a blogger decided to declare war on Harriet Beecher Stowe. The story just became irrelevant thanks to the natural course of time. Clearly, people are still finding modern relevance in the works of Mamet and LaBute. Instead of raising your pitchfork and shouting, perhaps you should stay quiet, observe, listen, and attempt to understand why that is in a way that doesn't end with you declaring a culture war. Keep the drama onstage, where they do.
PS - If you haven't already, I would highly recommend reading David Mamet's "Race" before making any more public declarations about erasing his life's work. Try more than just the low-hanging fruit and you get a better picture of the whole tree.
I've come to harbor serious doubts about Neil LaBute's work. It struck me that it is all emotional abuse porn since it was horrifyingly used as the principle texts for a theater company which was actually abusing women on stage, right in front of the audience. Real punches and choking, real sexual abuse, real emotional abuse and humiliation performed live in front of an audience for the sake of authenticity. I am, of course, referring to the infamous Profiles Theatre in Chicago. And they just loved Neil LaBute's work! Couldn't get enough of it.
Come on. Seriously? Neil LaBute's work bores me, not because of the content but the language. If we do Titus Andronicus, are we secretly wanting to rape women and rip out their tongues?
This was not secretly wanting to rape women and rip out their tongues. This was actually doing that for the sake of an authentic performance! It just makes you think about what you are putting out there. Several playwrights refused to allow that theater to do their work after they realized the violence would not be simulated. There was something sick about their choice of plays.
I am familiar with the Profiles theatre incident. However, to be hyper-puritanical and ban someone's work because of one director is pretty silly and very very American. What about Sarah Kane? Is she a female brutalist in disguise, a pervo for writing her plays? Or is sex and violence bad only when straight white guys do it? Does erotic art and theatre of cruelty created by men mean that those artists are potential rapists? Do you see how the Left is doing the Right's job in deeming things "degenerate art?"
The Left needs to can it with armchair psychology or we will never win a serious election again.
Well, there's nothing secret about my ideology.
Oleanna is not morally ambiguous: it is written to appear morally ambiguous in order to mask it's misogynist position. Something it does indeed take a master of form to accomplish. That's the great trick of the play, maybe even one of the reasons why it's so thrilling.
You can disagree with me about a specific text. That's fine.
I argue here only for calling spades spades, and for rejecting work that reinforces and normalizes hateful ideologues. I'm not arguing for an instrumental theatre - in fact, I'm arguing against it: Mamet's Oleanna and LaBute's plays are theatre instrumentalized in service of patriarchy.
I'm arguing that we have to identify the ideologies at work in texts and make decisions about whether we agree with them or not, and consider how those ideologies play into the hands of power.
Wallace Shawn is a great example of a fascinating playwright whose work is full of really interesting and challenging ideas, many of which are very progressive. Grasses of a Thousand Colors, for example, is a wonderful, mystifying, confusing and poetic play. So too with Kane, Shepard, and Kennedy.
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, who I point to here, is marvelously literary and promises to be a towering figure in American drama. His work is as hilarious, poetic, and touching as it is scathingly anti-racist, reckoning both with American history and theatre history. I think it's interesting that you dismiss him and all the other playwrights I name totally out of hand.
The work that gets supported and cultivated, our lower likelyhood to produce brilliant playwrights, as you put it - which, I don't think I agree with - has everything to do with how economic resources get allocated into theatre and theatres and nothing to do with trying to combat racism and sexism. To point to "social justice" as a culprit over economic conditions is a truly bourgeois ideological gesture. Mamet's best work is now decades old, but his new works - which are not only blatantly reactionary but also less interesting - still get lots of productions, those resources could go to more interesting, more challenging plays. That's part of the problem.
Michael, to be frank, I’m sick of people like you in the theatre.
“Oleanna” is not a misogynist play. It is a play about people like YOU. About people who misread everything who make clumsy arguments. Both characters in “Oleanna” never listen to each other. The very thing that this play is warning against is evident in your essay.
There’s no telling what is going to be labeled misogynist or racist in this culture right now. Everyone is completely on edge, overreacting, and creating what I believe is the worst theatre that the United States has ever seen.
And much of this is coming from millennials who learned only didactic Social Change theatre via Brecht in college. Artaud, Grotowski? Who are they?
Thankfully no one cares about Social Change theatre.
Theatre is there to show the suffering, the tragic consciousness. It is about poetic ambiguity and at its best is amoral.
Theatre is elitist and always will be.
I don’t care if everyone hates me, calls me sexist or racist or blacklists me. I will always fight the educational theatre tropes that people like you propagate
This article starts off with the assumption that 'Theatre' has an influence on modern culture. That it shapes ideologies. I'm sure that that is a comforting assumption for many here. Please take a step back and look at the broader nation. Theatre is utterly and completely irrelevant to modern American culture. Video Games are probably at least an order of magnitude more influential. And YouTube is another quantum leap beyond that. Trust me, I am not celebrating this, just saying. The tiny minority that notices that Theatre exists are generally wonderfully educated people of depth and sometimes wealth and almost always a lot of privilege. But Theater exists in a bubble.tl;dr - Mamet Shmamet
No such assumption. Just because theatre is no longer a mass cultural form the way it was 100 years ago doesn't mean its no longer a site of culture. This is written about theatre and for an audience of theatre artists and educators. I'm even explicit here about how theatre occupies a different space than Hollywood - that because of it's smaller scale it's easier for us to promote narratives and stories we believe in
It's important to note that Mamet, and to a lesser extent LaBute, started in the theatre before they became successful Hollywood writers. This is true for a lot of writers! Theatre is one part of a broader ecology of media production - artists, actors and writers especially, are often moving between mediums.
Snooki is more influential than the most popular show in the American Theater.
Matthew Read, I couldn't agree more. It feels like Sekellick is suggesting making this bubble even smaller. Perhaps the more pertinent question is how do we invite more people inside?
Matthew, this is a provocative essay and one that raises some valid points as to how we chose the work we do and the stories we tell on stage. And yet the idea of extricating certain plays from our stages must be avoided. Women and minorities do not fare well in the Shakespeare canon-- Merchant, Shrew anyone? and yet, banning production of those two titles does not necessarily advance my argument of what stories I think should be on stage at this moment in time. Let us not forget that Kushner's Angels in America (to this day) continues to be denied productions in our country. My colleague and friend Tim Bond once said to me: "Do the stories you feel passionate about, but be prepared to face a dissenting audience. That dissent creates dialogue, and in that dialogue, we both learn."
Mamet and LaBute didn't give rise to Trump, and it's a kind of hubris to suggest it. Why don't you throw in revivals of Virginia Woolf for good measure? And the work of Adam Rapp? Load them into your cattle-car.
You think the females of the audience thrilled to hearing Hamilton's landholding mother (forced into an arranged marriage with some older man out of sexism re: her ability to manage the plantation that was her rightful inherited due) described over and over again as a "whore" in some commercial musical simply because she had an affair with a man she loved? Yeah, look it up. The historical context. (She might be the only noble romantic of the entire production and yet she's only mentioned. Over and over again. As a "whore".) You think we enjoyed watching some women harass "noble" Hamilton into an affair when we all know 99 times out of 100, the male is the initiator? You think it was right to have the brilliant Thomas Jefferson portrayed as a buffoon because it was simply more comic and punitively p.c. to do so and made for some funny rhymes and "conflict" (scoff) for the Schoolhouse Rock-level libretto?
Such a load of ......hypocrisy.
I am as left as they come, but know that it's this kind of rancid attitude in our culture that actually births a Trump. The nauseating, coddled in-denial safe-spacer stuff. Because that DOES filter outward, into the culture. What happened at Yale and so forth. This attitude itself has become a kind of "privilege," especially in the arts. For all those who like to sit around yammering about "privilege" -- and you know who you are.
This isn't "holding a mirror up," what you propose. This is censorship, and it's lame and laughable. And all this screed is is your own personal judgment about so-called "value," things "passing the diversity test" and so forth. Please.
This is definitely an interesting read, thank you so much Matthew. Part of my problem with Mamet, is actually his hard work to control his work to make sure that it _stays_ reactionary. There was a recent production of Oleana in MN, where the genders were switched around some, and according to the opening night press, that completely changed the message of the play to be pro-trans instead of anti-women and refocused the power dynamic around the dangerous (if unavoidable) amount of power that professors have over students. Unfortunately there was no second night of performance, because Mamet shut the play down upon reading those reviews. My point is that it might be as much about the production as the play.
This argument does not stand up for me and is in fact- dangerous in my opinion. Who becomes the arbitrator in the author's world view? I consider myself a hard core feminist and supporter of inclusive, diverse narratives and peoples. But this strategy reminds me of the Chinese Red Guard whose goal it was to destroy the " four olds" : ideology, culture, habits and customs. There is nothing brave or fierce in the determinations set down in this essay. They are, in my opinion, encouraging a "hot house" flower approach to curating and programming art, which from my point of view, eliminates diversity and vibrancy in all art. I would say to the author: Have your own ideas, write your own plays, put them forth. Let the power of your own imagination and talent be persuasive. Censorship under the guise of political correctness is not a new strategy, and if you look at history, it has been consistently disastrous for art and artists.
Dina, I think there is a difference between a private individual, like Matthew, trying to convince other private individuals about what constitutes good art in a public forum, and the government (and their agents; yes, the Red Guard is a complicated issue) stamping out art that it doesn't like. Censorship is a function of government. When it is a theater artist trying to convince other artists of his point of view, that is the essence of free and open conversation. The argument, as I read it, is that LaBute and Mamet are reactionaries, and as progressives we should not be helping their ideology spread and maintain hegemony. My read* is that Matthew would agree that if someone _wants_ to support the ideology of misogyny, then obviously -those- folks -should- produce those plays. *I am providing -my- reading of Matthew, not trying to speak for him.
A healthy theatre culture, like a healthy democracy, must include all points of view and all stories, even ones that are at odds with each other or carry complicated historical weight. It's better to be positive, in my opinion - "we ARE going to produce plays by under-represented groups" rather than making lists of what cannot be produced. What's more, it is possible for a production to subvert/complicate/make interesting the plays and playwrights the author recommends banning. No one should have absolute curatorial power over the culture - but we can and should each steer it in the direction we want to see it go.
Having my ideas and putting them forth, as I have here, perhaps? Indeed, I even write plays!
I'm suggesting quite clearly here we take it upon ourselves as cultural producers, as theatre artists invested in these ideas to make these decisions for ourselves.
I'm quite confused as to how you see "don't produce sexist plays, produce feminist plays instead" adds up in any way to Maoism.
You're an artistic director, right? You are already, de facto, an arbiter of culture. Don't produce a racist play! It's that simple.
Matt, why are you( the male white guy) making this argument? Are you usurping the voice of any other under-represented community? By using your privilege to speak on this issue are you not taking up the space that should be left open for someone who is part of one of these grossly under-represented communities? I'm taking the Micky a bit here obviously to make the point that in creating identity based art as the sole maxim of what should and should not be produced we exclude other voices and other POV's . We must never exclude but rather increase inclusion. I agree all art is political. I agree that important voices are excluded based on gender and race, I agree that we see the world though how it is reflected back to us in media and art so we should change the reflection.But I can never agree with your statement "No plays but feminist plays.No plays but anti-racist plays.No plays but inclusive plays.No plays but queer plays." because it is not inclusive - it creates the need for arbitration of what meets this standard you've set forth. I don't trust anyone to arbitrate that standard and say what can and cannot be produced - least of all myself. Freedom to produce is one we must not impose criteria on ever. Thanks for writing this Matt - gave me much to think on.
I make this argument because it's the right thing to do.
I'm arguing that identity is a poor metric here, actually. We need to move past identity, per se, and deal with the political questions that come out of identity such as sexism and racism.
How, exactly, is "no plays but inclusive plays" not inclusive?
We're all already arbiters of such standards. Every theatre season, every course syllabus - somebody like you and me made decisions about what should get made and taught. We have to own that position which we already occupy and take responsibility over our decisions as cultural producers. To do anything less is to wash our hands of our own civic and artistic duties.
Why doesn't every theatre season feature blackface? Because we've rejected it as a racist form.
I have no interest in arguing about what is and is not a queer play. I'm not saying we must only produce queer feminist anti-racist plays, rather it's something to strive for - it's a world we can work on building. I'm saying we must reject racist, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic, and transphobic plays and not give those views platforms by producing them. That's not a radical position. It's a decent position.
Is Mac Wellman's play SINCERITY FOREVER racist because it includes people wearing Klan robes in it? Who decides whether a play is racist/sexist/ideologically regressive? What audience and reading is the decision based on? Pointing at something and calling it racist is a blunt-force reactionary attitude to what is sometimes a more nuanced situation.
Consider that, in theater, the representation of bad behavior does not mean an endorsement by the author, producer or company, of that bad behavior.
Playwrights are here to make things visible. That's our job. We can leave the adjudication to the audience, because they are free adults who have chosen to spend time and money partaking of the thing we made.
The more I consider this article the less I like it.
I'm not proposing a litmus test.
Use your own critical apparatus to make those decisions. The who is us. You and me. Theatre artists! The theatre commons!
I can't speak to Sincerity Forever, but I can tell you An Octaroon has redface in it - among many other things - but it's a thoroughly anti-racist play, a very smart and deeply critical work, that uses it for a specific purpose.
I'm not pointing randomly here. I use these specific plays as examples because they're constructed to be sexist. It's not representation of bad behavior that's a problem, but positive portrayals of reprehensible behavior. These plays themselves have points of view (most plays do)! Mamet and LaBute are insidious because they build their plays to look "nuanced" in order to disguise and justify their ideologies and get audiences to sympathize with bad men, as if their behavior is justified.
I'm encouraging folks, as theatre artists, to think deeply through plays, to read them for sexism and racism, and to go from there.
me too, it's ludicrous....
"We must never exclude but increase inclusion" - Yes! Beautiful!
Thanks, Dina. I dislike Mamet's plays in general, particularly because he's so good, and it's a shame his worldview is so cussed, and I think, essentially dishonest, but that's no reason to censor writers. In fact, when I saw Oleana (and I was friends of several of the participants over the years) on Second Ave, I was so incensed by it that it made me think more deeply abut about the issue than ever before––and he would probably say himself that his mission is provoke this discussion.
Just not after a show...
As a theater lover, you can't find the value in Mamet or LaBute (or Miranda?!) in today's cultural context? I feel sorry for you. More Mamets, please. And Parks-es and Oswalds.
How is using valid critique to complicate our view of such plays and their primacy in the American production repertoire (because yeah, they are super-overproduced at the direct expense of all the minority writers and audiences mentioned herein) the same as saying "I see no value in these?" The author isn't saying they're valueless. He's saying it's our responsibility to make room in the canon for both non-white cis het male playwrights AND plays that don't advance facile, counterproductive narratives of nationalism and neoliberalism. And yes, in addition to its many wonderful qualities, Hamilton does those things, and the author is smart to discern it.
I added that, if your arts aren't to some extent grounded in the communities you purport to serve & represent, and if your arts aren't actively putting those community members in affordable seats, then it's just a pretense rather than the genuine democratization of theater because – regardless of your programming – you're still going to be serving the wealthiest, whitest, best educated segment of the public.
I do read Matthew as saying "no more Mamet" - that is, not "make room in the canon for other things too" but "remove these from the canon." I am not sure I agree with him, in terms of his reading of the plays (though I might - I need to think about that more) but Drew is right that that is the argument to address.
I don't make any judgement here about value. I'm arguing that plays that promote hateful ideologies shouldn't be produced.
Which I don't say about Miranda: Hamilton is used here as an example of reading a play for its ideologies.
Thank you Matthew and Amy for your replies (sincerely! I know it's sometimes hard to discern tone on here). I forwarded the piece to a friend last night and asked "why does this annoy me so much" - the fact that I sent it along shows that whether I agree or not it struck enough of a nerve in me to want to discuss it, so props for getting a rise out of me (it's not easy). He responded with the following short email, which I think nails my concerns:
(The post states): "This is not about political correctness. This is not about censorship. This is drawing a moral line that defines what is in and out of bounds in our culture."
Censorship (definition): "The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to society."
I write politically nuanced plays. I shudder at the thought of someone I don't know and don't necessarily trust sitting around deciding if it is morally right for others to produce them based on what he thinks they say or mean. Given that I think you're wrong about Mamet and LaBute, I think there's a good chance you'd be wrong about me. But thanks for engaging, especially since I wrote what could be seen as a less-than-respectful comment to start. Ideas are good! So is disagreement. :-)
You are saying people must be shielded from certain ideas lest they believe them, a rather dim view of your fellow man, and a deeply Puritanical idea. You are calling for the policing of art, which is--and I am not using the words lightly--a fascist tendency. You are demanding ideological purity.
The content of work does not matter to the principle of freedom of expression. Stop calling for censorship. It doesn't work. It prevents nothing. It accomplishes *nothing*.
We must not let the current crisis lead us to become censors of the world.
Declaring that artists must be blacklisted over their ideology is far more harmful than any of their work. You have zero right to decide what people can see.
There are valid and interesting observations is this article. AND: re: People being too stupid to vote. HELLO Trump was just elected. re: plays that offer a more truthful representation of the human experience including feminine reality, transgender, sexual diversity, issues of color and race. YES let us support them, nurture them, produce them. AND just because a story may have unelvolved elements within its story line does not mean it's a badly written play. Yes mysogany dynamics are present in Oleana. And I'm sorry if it upsets you, but it's a well written and constructed script. You want to be a suporter of free expression in theatrical storytelling? Then be honerable enough to support the right for plays that offer a perspective you don't agree with to also exhist. That's it plain and simple. Otherwise your just playing the role of reverse discrimination.
"HELLO" yourself. There's little point hashing out election results in this thread, but the people's vote count supports my point – not yours. Contempt for the people arts purport to serve would be a problem, regardless, and we in the field need to address that if we hope to restore theater to any kind of relevance to American communities.
Michael. First of all there's no such thing as reverse discrimination. It's just discrimination. That phrase is one used by those with privilege in conversations about dismantling white supremacy or simply challenging it. Second, just because a murder is elegantly planned doesn't make it okay to exist -- it's still a murder. A well constructed play does NOT argue for its existence. Your response to this ambitious jeremiad (which I'm not sure is altogether successful), Michael, is troubling given the moment we're in right now. It sounds like all those Trumpists who are so happy to finally be unleashed from the responsibilities of thoughtful speech.
A well contructed play - and a poorly, awkwardly, or bizarrely constructed play - regardless of ideological content - is not equivalent to a murder. It is speech. Speech is exactly not-murder - it is discussion, which is the opposite of violence. I am in favor of more voices and plurality, a positive move towards greater representation, but no one under any circumstances has any authority to limit the stories we should tell. Imposing silence is a murder, is violence. We can do better than that.
This also puts me in mind of Richard Bean's "The Heretic," in terms of setting up a situation that doesn't actually exist. In it, a character is persecuted for their denial of climate change. Bean asserts that he doesn't want "anything taken on faith," the upshot of the play is to cast aspersion on those who hold climate change deniers, particularly in the scientific community, responsible.
Theatre must be socially responsible, at least insofar as to not be actively destructive. Socrates was hung out to dry, thanks in part to the inaccurate depiction of him in "The Clouds."
"Hamilton provides an excellent (and more subtle) example: while it appears to pass a diversity test, it is a play that not only tells a normative, nationalist, hero narrative, but offers a loving, uncritical portrayal that celebrates wealthy white slaveholders by using black and Latinx aesthetics." Hallelujah! Here's what the actual Hamilton said about actual Americans: "All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and wellborn, the other the mass of people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right." This man we've lifted up in celebration as a pop icon believed the president and senate should be elected for life because We the People are too stupid (and, of course, common) to be allowed to vote every 4 years! Can we continue to complicate conversations about the show, which has much beauty and value, with these considerations? And further discuss ticket prices so shameless they should have prompted a rebellion themselves against Broadway's class problem, which keeps plays like Hamilton the province of the privileged?
Hallelujah! Glad to see someone else out there apparently thinks as little of Hamilton (the man) as I do. (I can't afford a ticket so I can't really comment on the musical, though from the clips ["My Shot", "You'll Be Back", et cetera] it seems like a good time.)
Regarding Sekellick's article overall, it looks like other commentors have already covered things quite well, so I'll simply add two things:
1) While I could never bring myself to watch any LaBute plays or any of Mamet's more recent plays, his early works ("Glengarry Glen Ross", "House of Games") remain amongst my favorites.
2) I appreicate Sekellick taking the onus off me for my controversial article of a while back. (Looks like you're on track to get even more negative comments than I did, Matthew! Thanks, bud! :)