Thursday, October 21, 2010



Knight and Stewart in A Life in the Theatre (photo by Carol Rosegg)

A Life in the Theatre
Written by David Mamet
Directed by Neil Pepe
Starring Patrick Stewart, T.R. Knight
Performances through January 2, 2011
Schoenfeld Theater, 236 West 45th Street

Just a little lark, David Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre is a valentine to the actors who bring to life what playwrights create. It’s a series of blackout sketches, as two actors—one old, one young—are seen backstage and onstage as their relationship shifts noticeably throughout the play’s 26 scenes.

As decently if uninspiredly enacted by Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight and directed by Neil Pepe, Mamet’s characters never get beyond one-dimensionality: they are merely blank slates for these sometimes funny, occasionally enlightening but mainly sub-Saturday Night Live skits.

Mamet’s schema is breathtakingly simplistic: Robert (Stewart) is first the grand old veteran of the stage who reluctantly takes on the mentor role to John (Knight). Slowly, irreversibly, their roles shift, as Robert becomes sloppier and less reliable, while John is improving by degrees. But Mamet resorts to such old tropes as short, unfunny parodies of different plays (the war play, the Chekhovian play, etc.), which we see enacted by the pair with varying degrees of success. An air of desperation is afoot when Mamet wallows in sentimentality: Robert attempts suicide when he realizes his career is being eclipsed by John’s.

Other irritating Mametian mannerisms—needless repetition in the dialogue, the usual vulgarity (whenever Stewart bellows the “f” word, the audience rolls in the aisles with laughter as if Captain Picard invented swearing), unrealistic pauses—force the actors to work even harder to try and individualize these cardboard characters.

Maybe Mamet vets like Joe Mantegna or William H. Macy could handle these roles more persuasively, but neither Stewart nor Knight get past the broad accents, rote dialogue and musty clich├ęs they’re saddled with. Pepe’s direction, unable to find a middle ground between reality and theatricality, is caught in no-man’s land, while Santo Loquasto’s sets are too spartan for the large Broadway stage. (Laura Bauer’s costumes and Kenneth Posner’s lighting fare better.)

But most swallowed up is the play itself, a tossed-off appetizer posing as a multi-course dinner.

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