“This is a short, blunt and controversial monograph on the business of acting, but in assessing its lessons, one should consider two salient points. First, David Mamet tried unsuccessfully to become an actor, and, second, that as a playwright and director, he necessarily has his own ideas about how his works (and the works of other playwrights) should be produced, and his vision undoubtedly conflicts with actors’ ideas about how those works should be realized. In the guise of giving acting advice, he is voicing his strong opinion that all actors’ work must necessarily be subordinate to that of the playwright or director, and it recalls Alfred Hitchcock’s famous dictum that he regarded actors as cattle. That’s not necessarily acting advice, but it is a hierarchical view of roles within a production or a theatre company.With those points in mind, much of what Mamet has to say about acting is very good advice indeed. It is no secret that the Stanislavski and Strasberg systems of acting often produce academic and/or inward looking performances. Mamet also finds nothing at all to praise in acting schools of any stripe or theory. And as readers familiar with Mamet’s plays might expect, when Mamet wants to heap scorn upon an object, he is capable of doing so with cold and hilarious fury. His points about working truthfully in the moment (which he calls acting courageously) and focusing honestly on your partner or the other actors are surely solid. Similarly, his simple advice about how a scene should work and how an actor should understand the scene’s objective are rock solid.
In the end, although Mamet skewers both acting schools and theories, he has really espoused a theory of stage performance, albeit one that takes as its guidepost a highly naturalistic and unadorned style. Similarly, his advice that only by constantly working, and subjecting your craft to the ultimate test of audience acceptance or rejection, will an actor really grow, is beyond dispute. Overall, this is a useful and entertaining analysis. But it’s really only partly about how to act, and if you’re buying it as a how-to guide, you’re going to be disappointed.”