This week’s The FIVE comes to us from comedic improv’ers Hunter Nelson and Terry Withers. Hunter and Terry are veteran performers and teachers at the country’s most venerated improv institutions including the UCB Theater, the Magnet Theater, the Baltimore Improv Group & Reckless Theatre. This coming Tuesday, March 7, 2017 they’re bringing David Mamet’s The New David Mamet Play: An Opus Attaining Masterpiece to New York’s Highline Ballroom. In the performance, they insist David Mamet has retained them to work on his newest script, but audiences are pretty sure they make up each workshop as they go. The improv’ed madness Hunter and Terry deliver in pitch perfect tone, is beloved by audiences.
As self-proclaimed David Mamet experts, Terry and Hunter picked for us 5 of the greatest examples in film where David Mamet used dialog to upset you.
Perhaps no author has influenced American Drama and Film in the late 20th and early 21st centuries more than David Mamet. Known for his fast sharp dialogue laced with vulgarities and disturbing imagery, David is perhaps the world’s greatest author when it comes to upsetting people with dialogue. Here are the Top Five instances of Mr. Mamet’s ability to upset you with dialogue.
In this brief snippet of dialogue, Mr. Mamet employs the phrase “I’m going to kill the bear” 7 times in 36 seconds at an average pace of once every 5 seconds. While gentler authors (your Wendy Wassersteins, your David Auburns) might have repeated a phrase, they never would have repeated one so much and certainly it wouldn’t have been about killing an animal. Possibly, “I’m going to escape from the bear” or “I will find a way to make the bear see reason”. But as a provocateur, David chooses the more upsetting imagery of two older men killing a bear together. To say nothing of the scene’s later insistence that “What one man can do, another can do” robbing the viewer of any sense of uniqueness that may be propping up their self identity.
In one of the more disturbing scenes of all time, in Glengarry Glen Ross, Mr. Mamet provides dialogue for a furious Alec Baldwin who yells at an office of sad sacks. The most obvious upsetting moment comes when Mr. Baldwin purrs, “You know what it takes to sell real estate? It takes brass balls to sell real estate.” Forcing you to envision Mr. Baldwin’s balls, first as brass balls and then as normal testicles as your mind confirms that brass balls are in fact an impossibility.
Here Mr. Mamet takes a break from violence and vulgarities to bother you with a subversive metaphysical contradiction, meant to burrow into your mind and grow until you can no longer sleep at night. Having just anticipated an ambush, De Niro’s character smugly explains that “Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt.” Oh, so if there is doubt then there isn’t doubt? Doubt can’t exist where doubt is. So if there is no doubt, then can there be doubt? No! Because the existence of doubt means there is not doubt! So what’s the point of the word doubt then? Why was it ever defined if there is no doubt? Give me a break dude! You’re driving me absolutely crazy!
As a younger man, I needed to see a therapist after watching this scene that features family comedy legend Tim Allen cursing, lewdly hitting on women and fist fighting. It almost doesn’t matter what words Mamet would choose for a scene like this one, but of course he chose the most disturbing words possible. Why does David Mamet hate his fans so much? What is behind his disdain for our peace of mind?
Finally, two actors complimenting each other. What could be worse? How about two actors complimenting each other while stuck in an unending loop in Mamet’s signature, punishing style?
Comedic Improvisers Hunter Nelson & Terry Withers are veteran performers and teachers at some of the most notable improv comedy institutions in the country, including the UCB Theatre, Magnet Theatre, Baltimore Improv Group & Reckless Theatre. While they insist David Mamet has retained them to workshop his newest, ever changing script, audiences are certain they make up each “workshop” as they go. And nothing could delight them more than the improvised madness these two pros deliver, always in a pitch perfect tone matching Mr. Mamet’s more famous works. Because Mr. Mamet’s work often demands a large cast, audiences can expect to get involved.
Go to HighlineBallroom.com for tickets and more information.