LAKEBOAT (first perf. 1980; pub. 1981). Written by Pulitzer Prize-winner
David Mamet (1947– ), the play Lakeboat was inspired by his experience
as a ship’s steward following his sophomore year in college. Mamet writes
frequently about the gritty urban, machismo world of small-time hustlers
and about anger and violence between men and women, but Lakeboat is his
only major play that deals directly with a maritime setting and theme. The
play’s focus is life aboard the T. Harrison, “a steel bulk-freight turbine
steamer registered in the Iron Ore Trade” that roams the Great Lakes.* The
passengers consist of eight men: two officers, five veteran seamen, and a
young college student. The shipmates spend most of their time discussing
sex, drinking, sidearms, gambling, and the fate of a shipmate left ashore.
They wander the galley, bridge, and deck, conduct fire and evacuation drills,
and contemplate the life of a seaman.
The heart of the play, however, examines the binary effects of life upon
the Lakes. In one respect, the Lakes are places of isolation and loneliness,
where one has too much time to reflect on unfulfilled dreams. At the same time, the confines of the lake boat provide a gathering place where the men
can form a sense of community and also experience sharing and acceptance,
qualities not available to them ashore.