Arts Desk

The Twitter Spat Mamet Wrought: Should Theatergoers Boycott the Gun-Lovin’ Playwright?

If you've sat within five feet of a liberal-skewing Facebook news feed this week, you've probably heard about playwright David Mamet's humdinger of a Newsweek cover story, delectably headlined "Hands Off Our Guns," that made an odd and miscalculated argument against President Obama's gun control plan. In it, the brilliant author of Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow, and hundreds of essays of varying credibility peeled off a few particularly misguided but provocative statements about our nation's immediate need to strap on an ammunition belt and defend our homes against the walking corpse of Karl Marx (psst—that's code for "Obama"!) and all who heed him:

If, indeed, a firearm were more dangerous to its possessors than to potential aggressors, would it not make sense for the government to arm all criminals, and let them accidentally shoot themselves? Is this absurd? Yes, and yet the government, of course, is arming criminals...

Violence by firearms is most prevalent in big cities with the strictest gun laws. In Chicago and Washington, D.C., for example, it is only the criminals who have guns, the law-abiding populace having been disarmed, and so crime runs riot...

[President Obama] has just passed a bill that extends to him and his family protection, around the clock and for life, by the Secret Service. He, evidently, feels that he is best qualified to determine his needs, and, of course, he is. As I am best qualified to determine mine.

It took .00056 seconds for the pundit world to capably (and condescendingly) rebut the Pulitzer-winning playwright, but, like the sun's rays to Mars, the message took a little longer to reach, and ignite, some members of the D.C. theater community. Oh, but when it did, you'd be a fool to close TweetDeck.

At least two Mamet works are coming to D.C. stages this season: Round House is doing Glengarry and and Theater J has Race, both of which start next week. So local playwright Stephen Spotswood posed a question that threw a spotlight on the dilemma of seeing a great work written by a tremendous asshat:

Playwright Gwydion Suilebhan bit:

Project Gym founder Hannah Hessel leapt into the ring, undaunted:

Then! In jumped Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks, tossing his gloves aside with bravado:

Spotswood, Hessel: A mountain of shit lies ahead, and you left your waders at home.

The acid—it burns!

Suilebhan, nobly, tried to play peacemaker:

But it was too late to stave off the inevitable conclusion:

A short time after we'd all gone home, downcast, resigned to numbing ourselves with takeout and Downton reruns, Theater J Artistic Director Ari Roth saw fit to whip up his own thoughts on #mametgate, which had swelled to include Glengarry actor Alexander Strain and dozens of other D.C. theater practitioners. After a harsh day in the Twitterverse, his perspective sought to bring a little clarity—and perhaps part the clouds:

Mamet writes every day. That’s the truest thing that can be said about him. Some of what he writes is negligible. Some is genius. Everything gets published. That’s a problem. He’s one of the more over-published authors of our time. Every wisp of a playlet is sold on Amazon. Every musing on the actor’s craft gets turned into a handbook, much of it, to my mind, harmful in its reductive functionalism. But along the way, this man who writes every day—with swagger and controlled abandon, with cocky confidence and sometimes convoluted candor—continues to ply his trade with a brutal relevance that, now and again, hits the bull’s-eye with a prophetic insight and staying power...

Great writers are like that. They’re worth a second look. In spite of their bad behavior. Or bad politics. Moreover, Mamet’s not been shy from critiquing himself, in the process of critiquing liberalism. And I have a feeling that this evolution of self is not done with David yet. Mamet’s art and his work ethic will keep him forever burrowing.

Photo: Round House Theatre's Glengarry Glen Ross.

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  • Hondo Howard

    I think Marks is wrong. If an author holds personal beliefs that are so repugnant to me, I think it's fine for any individual to say, I'm not gonna go see that guy's work. I don't want to support him in any way. Spotswood is correct. If Hitler wrote "Springtime for Hitler," I wouldn't go see it. If Mel Brooks did, I would. There's nothing depressing about that. And I'm not going to support Mamet any more because I find his troglodyte views highly offensive.

  • The Truth

    Cause EVERYONE cares what Ari Roth has to say. Said no one ever.

  • Joe Leotta

    I love that Peter Marks is bemoaning the lack of openmindness, when just yesterday on Twitter he and Jon Padget were deriding Tobys for getting the most noms for best musical. A show neither one of them saw.

  • John Brennan

    The worst thing about Mamet's Newsweek piece is how ill-informed it is, e.g., he has no idea of how the background check system works. As an essayist, he's lazy, and produces slapdash pieces of shoddy quality that suggest he's bored and can't be bothered to do the necessary research. I mourn the extreme rightward turn of his politics, but then he was never a profound thinker, and this being the case I don't expect him to produce thoughtful pieces on socio-political matters. What he was, and I think still remains, is a first rate-dramatist with an excellent eye for the vagaries of human behavior, and the ability to portray them in a compelling way. I deplore his current views, which he's been espousing for a few years now, but still revere him as a dramatist. I would certainly not boycott his work. I saw Glenngarry during its original Broadway run, and acted in a production of it over 20 years ago, but still plan to see it at Roundabout, mostly because I know people in the show. I'm on the fence about seeing Race, but only because I saw that in New York three years ago and don't feel a compelling need to see it again so soon afterward. BTW, I can't think of a worse place than Twitter to have a conversation about this issue, given the severe contraints on the number of characters you can use to express your thoughts. No wonder PM found it so depressing.

  • Ari Roth

    All valid points, John. Here, incidentally, is a link to the entirety of the program essay for RACE from which the City Paper piece excerpted a choice bit. Not that "The Truth" really cares. But others might ("believes no one really!")

  • John Brennan

    Thanks, Ari. I look forward to reading that.

  • Al Munzer

    Mmm...Tough call. I supported Cesar Chavez and the California grape boycott. But a boycott --a ban, a "cherem" a la Spinoza -- of a writer? Mamet's descent into the know nothing realm is sad, all the more so because he had such a gift for exploring the darkest recesses of the human heart. Will his politics affect how I judge RACE? Of course. But I'll see the play...A morbid interest, maybe, in Mamet's characters' psyche as well as his own.

  • Pingback: Making Choices: On David Mamet and the Need for Diversity | Gwydion Suilebhan

  • Muh

    The Truth poster seems like a dick.

  • Phillip F

    Ya, The Truth is a dick. Like we can't see Hannah Hessel posting through a ridiculous pseudonym.

  • Ari Roth

    On a more elevated note, our important "Race in America" Symposium weekend runs Saturday and Sunday, February 16 and 17.
    Featuring NPR's Michel Martin, DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, MSNBC political analyst Michael Steele,

    Alliance for Justice's Nan Aron, and a great panel on Sunday, Feb 17 at 7 pm at Busboys and Poets on "The Cultural Politics of a City's Comeback"

    A new generation of authors and activists reframe many of the hot-button urban issues in our city, from gentrification to swagger-jacking to the city's changing demographic. This discussion is part of A.C.T.O.R (A Continuing Talk on Race), an open discussion series hosted by Busboys and Poets (14th & V St).

    Moderator: Pamela Pinnock, founder of A.C.T.O.R. at Busboys and Poets
    • Clinton Yates, journalist Washington Post/The Root
    • Sheryll Cashin, professor at Georgetown University Law Center and author of Moving Toward a Culturally Dexterous Washington and The Failures of Integration
    • Sheldon Scott, playwright, actor, and manager of Marvin's Restaurant
    • Garance Franke-Ruta, senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Politics Channel
    • Amy Alexander, author Uncovering Race: A Black Journalist's Story of Reporting and Reinvention
    • Angie Chuang, Assistant Professor, School of Communications, American University

    Read more about it the Washington Post here:

    And check out the full 8 panel line-up at