Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Life in the Theatre **

Although David Mamet's 1977 affectionate tribute to actors played off- and off-off-Broadway as well as in London, the new production directed by Neal Pepe is the first time it has been seen on Broadway. Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight star as two repertory actors, one old and the other young, seen both onstage and backstage over the course of a season. There are 20-some scenes, some of them very short. The excerpts from their performances are a virtual catalog of all that can go wrong on a stage. Some are quiet hilarious, while others misfire. The main connecting tissue of the play is a series of conversations while the two are sitting at their adjacent make-up tables. Their relationship gradually changes from welcome mentoring to unwelcome interference and competition. Stewart's role is by far the juicier and he is both amusing and touching as an actor whose best days are behind him. Knight's role seemed underwritten to me; I did not detect much development or even much underlying personality. This being Mamet, women do not escape unscathed. Using the "C" word only once in 85 minutes is relatively benign for him. I don't think putting this play on a huge stage serves it well. For me, it emphasized how slight the material is. In culinary terms, it's a snack, not a meal.

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