We Kindly Ask That You Turn Off Your David Mamet



92nd Street Y, 10128

Neighborhood: Upper East Side

At first one or two left, dignified and quiet, as if they had to get home to relieve the babysitter.

Then coats started rustling, whispers became impolitely perceptible, and the audience grew ever more restless. The Kaufmann Auditorium in the 92nd Street Y was turning into an unhappy, however cultured, hubbub.

But David Mamet droned on, inexorably reading what I remember as the manuscript version of his Dr. Faustus. And he seemed amused that the audience wasn’t amused.

The evening had taken an odd turn indeed. After being lushly entertaining in his cultured Robin Williams way, he had squandered our good will and anticipation with a vigorous reading of the kind of play-in-verse that could give plays-in-verse a deadly dull reputation.

At first I worried about the people who huffed and puffed as they walked up the aisle. They seemed rude. I sat up straight, attempting to parse out recognizable details from Mamet’s increasingly sedative murmur from the stage. I paid attention harder than ever.

Kaufmann Auditorium is a cozy, elegant hall with coffered wood-paneled walls, around the top of which are emblazoned the venerable names of Moses, Isaiah, Jefferson, and Washington. Regulars know that the audience is normally very well-behaved and never very aggressive. We sit in plush velour seats–calm browsers of the facsimiled scribbled-up manuscript pages inside the programs.

Nevertheless, things got worse. Members of the audience down front stood up and excused themselves from deep in their rows, center stage. Plenty of them for Mamet to notice, who I don’t think was being sadistic–not exactly sadistic–in reading his Faustus. But he read on.

I had the dark realization that the people leaving were right. And I started to think it was a pretty bad personality flaw that I couldn’t get up and walk out like the others.

On his side, Mamet commented mildly as literally half of a very full auditorium made for the exits. He was bombing, and he did seem to enjoy it, as if he was involved in seeing what would happen if he persisted. If his play-in-verse lacked drama, at least he could enjoy the drama of human nature.

When all the brave ones had left, the Kauffman audience looked like a tooth had been extracted and it felt that way too. Somewhere between the seats and the podium lay one of the darker impulses of human nature, that is to be polite, to allow ourselves to be tortured, even by a humanist, even by an epic in which humans are predictably doomed.

The closely-cropped little man from Chicago and Hollywood read for what was probably an hour. When he finished, the surprise ending to the play-in-verse was that the character of David Mamet returned, sharp and witty as ever, and even a little entertaining at his own expense.

Jean Paul Cativiela is the managing editor of Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood.

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§ One Response to “We Kindly Ask That You Turn Off Your David Mamet”

  • Hello,

    Is this the same Jean-Paul Cativiela who received NYFA Fellow Fellow in Fiction in 1996?

    If so Hello! This year NYFA’s fellowship program turns 30 and as part of that milestone we want to invite all fellows to attend various events. We don’t have an email address for you on file and I wanted to be sure this in fact you!

    and if not I’m sorry to have bothered you…

    Madeline Scholl

§ Leave a Reply

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