Post-show panel discussions, often including directors and actors, have become increasingly commonplace in British theatres and cinemas, and are usually enjoyed by artists and audiences alike. But count David Mamet out. The American playwright, author of hits such as House of Games and Glengarry Glen Ross, has imposed an extraordinary ban on any formal post-show talks about his work.
The licence to stage a Mamet play now includes a clause that prevents producers from staging official debates within two hours of a performance. Any violation risks the loss of the licence and a fine of $25,000 for every post-show talk .
The Pulitzer prizewinner’s plays have often sparked fierce debate. A staging of the 1992 drama Oleanna, in which a university student accuses her lecturer of sexual harassment, led one critic to observe that it divided audiences by gender, as couples emerged screaming at each other.
The playwright’s apparent attempt to impose a temporary post-curtain silence has caused some astonishment. Sir Ronald Harwood, the Oscar-winning writer of plays such as The Dresser, said: “Oh dear, oh dear. I don’t know why he’s done that. What’s his reason? I like after-the-show discussions. I’ve taken them and I’ve talked to people who have questions. I think they’re perfectly all right. I’d like to charge $25,000, but I’m not going to.”
He added: “I think it’s ridiculous, quite honestly … If he had reasons and told us, perhaps we would think of it differently.”
Mamet’s agents in the UK and US declined to comment. Peter Hagan, president of the Dramatists Play Service in New York, which publishes and licenses plays, said: “The restriction applies to all of Mamet’s plays which we license. We were instructed to do this. It’s fairly recent. We were told this at the end of March.”
In October an American theatre company, Road Less Traveled Productions in Buffalo, New York, will stage Glengarry Glen Ross, Mamet’s fast-paced play about a crooked real estate office. This weekend, its director Scott Behrend confirmed that the post-show embargo on public discussion will be observed.
He told the Observer: “It’s a tricky thing. My theatre does a lot of new plays and works with a lot of new playwrights. We’ve always been interested in making sure that the playwright’s vision and words are out there as accurately as possible. In my mind, this is just part of the deal if you do a Mamet play.
“I’m going to guess that he’s probably had some bad experience with talkbacks. To me, it’s more important to be able to put on the work than have the talkback.”
Rosemary Squire, co-founder of the Ambassador Theatre Group and now joint head of the Trafalgar Entertainment Group, has produced a number of Mamet plays over the years, when there were no such restrictions.
She said: “The Royal Court produced Oleanna, which is about sexual politics. It came to the Duke of York’s [theatre] when we were operating it. It was very contentious. There was a lot of debate.
“We have always tried to have post-show discussions. When it’s a particular topic that is of the moment, contentious or polarised views, they can really add value. That said, I do sympathise with writers that there’s a kind of spell that’s cast in the theatre. Maybe Mamet wants people to go away and digest his work.”