Spoiled Children of Divorce


Exemplary Children of Divorce – David Mamet & Superman

Writer and Director, David Mamet’s parents divorced when he was 11 years old. Mamet has received the Pulitzer Prize for his play Glengary Glen Ross about 4 real estate salesmen and is known for his portrayal of gritty American life.

Mamet is divorced himself and has two children from his first marriage (Zosia & Willa) and two from his second marriage. This is an interesting biography of his childhood where his sister, also a playwright, describes their parents’ divorce and the two siblings’ different reactions:

“There was a lot of violence, but the greatest violence was emotional.”
 

Mamet has been involved in two marriages. The first time to Lindsay Crouse who starred in House of Games. They have two daughters together, Willa and Zosia. Now teen-agers, they reside with their mother in California. His second and current marriage is to Rebecca Pidgeon, who has acted in his productions of The Water Engine (1992), Homicide (1991), and The Winslow Boy (1999), as well as the original theatre production of Oleanna. She also composed the music for the film version of Oleanna. She is a well-known singer/songwriter in the pop/folk music world, and that she has even co-written some songs with her husband. They have one daughter, Clara now six. They have houses in Vermont and Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

He has a sister, Lynn Mamet, who also shares her brothers’ passion as a screenwriter, and a half-brother Tony Mamet, who is a musician and actor. 

Mamet’s childhood years were not what one would call normal. His mother, Lenore Mamet, left her husband, a labor lawyer, for one of his colleagues, and the two children (David and Lynn) lived with their mother and stepfather until young David had had enough and moved in with his father. In neither household however, did there seem to be a respite from the burden of trying to please the apparently unappeasable adults.

“Suffice it to say we are not the victims of a happy childhood,” Lynn Mamet said. “There was a lot of violence, but the greatest violence was emotional. It was emotional terrorism. In my estimation we are survivors of a travel route that included a 1950’s version of Dachau and Bergen-Belson, and that we both still bear the numbers on our arms. In that sense, when [Mamet] writes, he wears short sleeves.” 

As close as the two siblings are – “ I would take a bullet for him,” Lynn Mamet professes- their experiences were not the same. Where her brother grew up loving and admiring their real father, Bernard, who died nearly eight years ago, she always hated him. She, on the other hand, has forgiven her stepfather; while her brother has not. 

One last thought on Lynn and David Mamets life, spoken by Lynn Mamet: “In dealing with our demons, we have identified different people as the devil. My response to that is it doesn’t matter who we single out; there was a devil, and as a result we will never run out of stories. The very thing that could have destroyed us and driven us to silence ultimately led us to open our veins on white bond and make a living.”

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Mamet has written a play about the effects of Divorce on Children from the Child’s point of view. Synopsis and some interesting criticisms of the play from http://www.londontheatre.co.uk/londontheatre/reviews/cryptogram06.htm.

Synopsis: John cannot sleep. He’s afraid to go to sleep. He doesn’t understand what is happening or why his father hasn’t returned home. David Mamet’s unsettling elliptical play charts the breakdown of a family, pinpointing the moment when childhood finally vanishes.

What the critics had to say…..
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “A cryptogram is something written-in cipher, requiring a key. Yet for all the air of mystique that foggily swirls around the play there is no disguising its blatant, melodramatic underpinning. In three scenes and 65 minutes Mamet advances from scenes of comfortable domesticity to fury, tears and delusions. ” MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, “On a first viewing, in 1994, I took David Mamet’s cryptic 65-minute play to be about betrayal. Now, in Josie Rourke’s fine revival, it seems to be more about the corruption of innocence…an immaculate production.” CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, “What Mamet’s play and Josie Rourke’s tense, raw production painfully captures is that moment in life when a child wakes to the frailty of his parents and the knowledge that there are some ills in life that can’t be cured with a kiss, a cuddle and a few kind words – the end of innocence, in fact.” BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, “I liked the play more than when I saw it at its premiere 12 years ago. Then I thought that Mamet’s hesitant, elliptical, fragmented dialogue came close to self-parody. But this time it’s clearly the language of people who are stumbling about in the ontological fog or, as the title suggests, trying to solve the cryptograms of their lives.” ALEKS SIERZ for THE STAGE says, “Mamet’s focus on the child allows him to explore not only the roots of psychological damage but also the way that adult conflicts are imposed on young minds. With its perverse joy in verbal power games, the result is a stomach-clenching gem.” ALASTAIR MACAULAY for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, “Although neither adult has fully solved yet how to make all the many Mametian repetitions convincingly expressive, the production’s tight pace and gathering anguish are otherwise compelling.” PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, “An immaculate and deeply disturbing production.”

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An interesting review of Mamet’s thoughts about the effect that his divorce had on him are discussed here (web.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap8/mamet-html). Interesting comparison between a boy’s point of view and Superman mythology:

As a child of divorced parents, Mamet had written a very personal essay on an important reaction regarding his thoughts on this situation. Mamet examines the appeal “of the comic book hero Superman who, far from being invulnerable as most boys imagine, it is ‘the most vulnerable of beings, because his childhood was destroyed'” (Kane, 35). As a result of this image, Mamet wrote Reunion as a reminder explaining that although moments can seem short-lived, the broken home is still the most important institution in America. This essay provides a great autobiographical interest regarding Mamet as well as the light it sheds on his male characters that portray an ongoing sort of toughness in his plays (Kane 34-6).


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