In the past five Broadway seasons, there have been seven productions of plays by David Mamet, making him in all likelihood the single most produced playwright on Broadway in that period, and certainly the most produced living playwright. That’s a pretty remarkable achievement, especially when you consider that Mamet has only had 15 Broadway productions in his career. Three of those 15 were American Buffalo productions, while another three were Glengarry Glen Ross.
But the impending closing of his newest play, The Anarchist, only two weeks after its opening, gives Mamet another record: this marks the third Broadway season in which there have been two Mamet productions on Broadway, with one in each pair closing prematurely. For the record: the autumn of 2008 saw both Speed-the-Plow and American Buffalo (the latter closing in a week, while the former saw three lead actors in a single role, though it completed its limited run); 2009 paired Oleanna and Race (the revival lasting less than two months, while the new play enjoyed a sustained run); and now we have The Anarchist closing while Glengarry Glen Ross is selling well during a limited run comprised equally of previews and regular performances.
Critical reaction certainly hastened the demise of the fast closers, but shows – especially those with stars, as has been the case with all recent Mamet productions – can manage to outpace critical opinion. But stars haven’t been infallible insurance with Mamet; a production of A Life in the Theatre, with the estimable Patrick Stewart and TV star T.R. Knight was seen briefly in 2010, the sole Mamet entry that season.
We can argue the merits of David Mamet as a playwright, or the quality of the various productions, but this spate of openings (and closings) certainly suggests that Mr. Mamet has imposed on our hospitality a bit longer than might be advisable. When the typical Broadway season only sees 40 new productions a year, two a season from the same playwright is not an insignificant amount – and in the case of Glengarry, it has only been seven years since the last production.
It may well be that Mamet is overexposed, and familiarity is breeding contempt in some quarters. What’s unfortunate in this spate of commercial programming is that some of Mamet’s less produced work – say the nihilistic Edmond or the ribald Sexual Perversity in Chicago, neither ever seen on Broadway – have yet to surface in major New York revivals, and as someone who has never been fortunate enough to see either on stage, I’d welcome them.
When Edward Albee’s stock rose after a season at Signature Theatre and the Vineyard production of Three Tall Women in the mid-90s, it triggered a wave of Albee revivals, mixed with new work, on Broadway and Off, allowing a new generation to see virtually every major work by our most esteemed living playwright, after a period of disfavor. There’s nothing wrong with David Mamet getting the same treatment (though he never experienced the fallow period that Albee did in the 80s), and I even delight in the idea that such a retrospective can take place in the commercial arena. But the Albee “festival” was spread out over some 19 years by the time we got to The Lady From Dubuque (and we’re unlikely to ever see The Man Who Had Three Arms).
Maybe our Mamet feast likewise needs a bit more time to digest between courses, so that we might be inclined to savor them more when they come. Speaking with a marketing and sales agenda, rather than an aesthetic one, I must haul out a cliché: absence, as they say, does make the heart grow fonder.