‘I have no idea how to work these machines,” says David Mamet, trying to get himself on to Zoom. He has managed to log on but is just a disembodied voice. “It’s like those old movies where they have one of the first telephones and the grumpy old guy doesn’t know how to make it work.”
Mamet is far from a grump, though he is now 74. His tone is baritone deep, bouncy, surprisingly Tigger-ish. He fiddles with his laptop but quickly concedes defeat with regards to us speaking face to face, saying: “Look, I can give you a description. I’m not that interesting anyway.” The writer is at home in Santa Monica, California, where it’s 72 degrees outside. He is sipping tea. There are occasional interjections from others who are ushered away politely with the words: “I’m speaking to the Guardian.”
Dialogue in Mamet’s plays is generally staccato, gum-chewing hard talk but his own conversational style is bubbly and loquacious, at times taking on an unstoppable, locomotive energy. He jokes about Shakespeare (“Another Jew – his real name was Velvel Shaperstein, did you know that?”) and describes the latest batch of cartoons he has been drawing. They sound funny, I say. “I’ll send you some,” he replies, and a parcel arrives some days later with a cartoon of “Madame de Sade” and a punning S&M punchline, another one with a cute Jean-Paul Sartre joke, and a copy of the book he has ghostwritten for the adult-film veteran Priscilla Wriston-Ranger, The Diary of a Porn Star.
Sex and sexual politics have long featured in Mamet’s work. He has an immense, omnivorous oeuvre, from Hollywood hits to Broadway smashes as well as novels, children’s stories, essays, articles and cartoons. Theatre was where he started and we are Zooming to discuss The Woods, a two-person play that serves as a prime example of the Venus-and-Mars-like gender dynamics in Mamet’s fiction. It premiered in 1977, starring Patti…