Ira Nadel has written the first biography of David Mamet, a major figure on the late 20th century American theater and film scene. Playwright, screenwriter, director, and actor, Mamet’s reputation rests largely on a series of quirky plays that are noteworthy for their no-holds-barred examination of the amorality of contemporary America and their distinctive laconic and profane dialogue — including Sexual Perversity in Chicago, American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow, and Oleanna. In addition, he has written the screenplays for several mainstream Hollywood films (including The Untouchables) and has directed several films from his own scripts, with varying degrees of success.
Nadel’s book provides a sound overview of Mamet’s career and works, but — much as with a typical Mamet play — we don’t come away from it feeling that we truly know this enormously talented but frustrating figure. Like many literary biographers, Nadel strives to reconcile several apparently contradictory underlying currents running throughout his subject’s career, including Mamet’s machismo, his Judaism, and his fascination with con men, but in his zeal Nadel doesn’t seem to credit the possibility that much of Mamet himself may be sheer humbug. Generally straightforward, the book suffers from occasionally confusing chronology and the glossing over of several significant events in Mamet’s personal and professional life that deserve deeper probing. Index, notes.