DavidM_288x375Our current production, Glengarry Glen Ross, is written by one of America’s most acclaimed and eclectic playwrights ever, David Mamet. Mamet’s dialogue exploits the artful use of expletives and employs a variety of literary tools in order to heighten the rhythms of his text.

Mamet’s style, marked by a cynical, street-smart edge, precisely crafted for effect, is so distinctive that it has come to be called “Mamet speak.” He often uses italics and quotation marks to highlight particular words and to draw attention to his characters’ frequent manipulation and deceitful use of language. His characters frequently interrupt one another, their sentences trail off unfinished, and their dialogue overlaps. Moreover, certain expressions and figures of speech are deliberately misrepresented to show that the character is not paying close attention to every detail of his dialogue (e.g., “or so forth” instead of “and so forth”). Mamet himself has criticized his (and other writers’) tendency to write “pretty” at the expense of sound, logical plots.

When asked how he developed his style for writing dialogue, Mamet said, “In my family, in the days prior to television, we liked to while away the evenings by making ourselves miserable, based solely on our ability to speak the language viciously. That’s probably where my ability was honed.”

One classic instance of Mamet’s dialogue style can be found in Glengarry Glen Ross, in which two down-on-their-luck real estate salesmen are considering stealing from their employer’s office. George Aaronow and Dave Moss equivocate on the meaning of “talk” and “speak”, turning language and meaning to deceptive purposes:

Moss: No. What do you mean? Have I talked to him about this [Pause]

Aaronow: Yes. I mean are you actually talking about this, or are we just…

Moss: No, we’re just…

Aaronow: We’re just “talking” about it.

Moss: We’re just speaking about it. [Pause] As an idea.

Aaronow: As an idea.

Moss: Yes.

Aaronow: We’re not actually talking about it.

Moss: No.

Aaronow: Talking about it as a…

Moss: No.

Aaronow: As a robbery.

Moss: As a “robbery?” No.

Mamet dedicated Glengarry Glen Ross to Harold Pinter, who was instrumental in its being first staged at the Royal National Theatre, (London) in 1983, and whom Mamet has acknowledged as an influence on its success, and on his other work. The terse dialogue in many of Pinter’s plays seems to have influenced parts of Mamet speak.

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