Comrade Mamet has committed a thought-crime.
When the playwright announced that he will fine venues that stage post-show discussions of his plays $25,000 per talk, the kommissars of the moronic left arose to denounce his transgression. An artist? Exercising control over his creation? And applying economic principles to safeguard said control? That’s heresy! And besides, if we don’t follow up dramatic performances by panels of politruks, how are audience members even to understand that they’ve just watched a very important piece of social and political commentary? The risk is just too great; we mustn’t let the theater be, God forbid, a haven for unmitigated art.
It’s easy to dismiss the seizures of the morally preening left as causing nothing more grave than a tempest in a teapot, but this recent controversy is just another necessary reminder of what happens to an art form when it is seized by group-think and dispatched to the front lines of the culture wars. When an acclaimed playwright imagines a pro-life character, for example, and is told by Lincoln Center, the Public, and just about every other major theater in America that such heterodoxy “goes against the grain of our philosophy,” it’s time to bring down the curtain.
If American theater was interested in art, as it was, say, in the 1940s and 1950s, it would continue to invent new ways of telling stories that are both timely and timeless. And it would give artists like Mamet no reason to guard their work against being stripped for political parts. Instead, the only form of narrative storytelling that matters on Broadway these days is that of the panel discussion and the sanctimonious protest, forms of expression that are to making art what the instruction manual of a vibrator is to making love. Bless Mamet for wanting no part in this folly.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.