American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

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. [See also DRAMA OF THE SEA]

Brian Knetl