In Which I Am Reduced to Making T-Shirt Commercials

I have a playwright friend whose husband has a sideline business designing T-shirts.  What with him having married into the theatrical life – he’s got plenty of his own theatrical experience, too, but I know him as my friend’s husband so that’s what I’m going with here – the bulk of his T-shirt designs have some sort of relationship to the performing arts.  A few are keyed specifically to his wife’s productions, or to companies she’s worked with.  Some of them are riffs on iconic theatrical logos.  The bulk of them are text based, featuring inspirational sayings or playful critiques of the current theatrical scene.  And one of these, a commentary on the gender disparity among playwrights produced on Broadway, reads simply, “More Vogel Less Mamet.”

My friend’s wife is seeing a boom in business these days. 

Largely, this is because of the recent announcement that, after a year-and-a-half delay due to the pandemic, David Mamet’s Obie-winning 1976 play American Buffalo is being revived on Broadway.  (That’s the “Mamet” part of the shirt design.  I hope you folks know who Paula Vogel is; if not, Google is your friend.) This is thirteen years after another Broadway revival of the piece played for one week in 2008.  Prior to that, there was an Atlantic Theater Company revival in 2000, as well as another Broadway revival in 1983 and a previous off-Broadway revival in 1981, which occurred only four years after its Broadway debut in 1977.  And that’s just this one play – start counting up the innumerable revivals of Glengarry Glen Ross, the scores of classroom productions of The Duck Variations, and the parade of new and (pretty-obviously-but-I’ll-be-diplomatic-and-say-arguably) lesser new works this decade alone, and it’s pretty clear: Mamet gets done a lot.

And if you’re fond of that brand of staccato, stylized machismo, if you gravitate to that particular sort of smart-aleck contrarianism, then these past few, um…(checks notes) decades have been a golden age for you.  But if you’d like to see literally anything or anyone else on Broadway – if you’d like there to be a diversity of voices being heard, especially in response to the confusing and tumultuous times we’re living in now – then you’re apt to be a mite frustrated.  You’re apt to wonder why the same voices – the same white male voices, if you’re inclined to notice such a thing – are deferred to time and time again, when a whole vast nation full of talent is crying out to have their say.  You’re likely to think to yourself, as my friend’s husband’s t-shirt puts it, “more Vogel, less Mamet.”

There’s a vast swath of the theater world who is thinking these things to themselves, which you’d think would be the sort of thing producers would take notice of.  And yet…

(Ironically, if we’d done a better job over the past few decades of nurturing a broader variety of theatrical voices, and if there weren’t such a vocal contingent of folks heartily sick of Mametspeak, then there’s a good chance we’d all think that this was an ideal time for a revival of American Buffalo.  It is, after all, the story of a bungled criminal conspiracy, whose participants are fueled by resentment, entitlement, and the fervent conviction that they know much more than they actually do.  It’s kinda topical, in other words.  But then again, Mamet being Mamet, he presents this as the natural state of affairs for men in America in the late twentieth century – so if this is a mindset you want to try and fight or condemn, producing a Mamet script might not be the optimal course of action.  But I digress.)

At any rate, I bring this all up because, as if inspired by the blunt-spoken conmen Mamet loves to depict, scammers have begun offering bootleg versions of my friends’ husbands T-shirts.  He pointed out on Twitter this week that a website had begun selling the design without crediting him, or offering him any sort of commission.  I won’t link to the bootleg website, as I don’t want to send any traffic their way; if you do want to proclaim your desire for more diverse theatrical representation through the medium of T-shirts, then please order through a website that is offering commission and credit, like this one here. That’s the best way to offer up your dollars to the cause.

Well, other than actually buying tickets to productions of women playwrights, BIPOC playwrights, or pretty much any playwright who wrote something besides American Buffalo.  That’s pretty important too.

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