A Life in the Theatre

  • Our critic's rating:
    October 1, 2010
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    Review by Tulis McCall
    (30 Oct 2010)

    Watching this show made me wonder if David Mamet likes actors. It doesn’t seem so. In this production these two fine actors work like stevedores trying to pull a story out of this jumble of scenes. They aren’t able to do it. I don’t’ know who could.

    There are some 20 scenes in this play. Each is a universe unto itself. Each with a beginning, middle and end. Each not connected to the other. Except they are connected, or you think they are, or you are not certain or something. It is all very, very vague and all very, very tiresome.

    This was especially disappointing after a press conference where I met Stewart , Knight, and Pepe who all spoke glowingly of Mamet and his work. This show was collaborative, we were told, because Mamet was tweaking the script to suit the two actors. The only thing I can imagine is that, as so often happens in the theatre, the actors’ judgment was clouded by the work.

    Work is what actors love. They love the process from sitting around a table and reading, to the private rehearsals they have with themselves getting to know their character, to the blocking, to the technical rehearsals to the opening night and the run. They love flying without a net each night. They love the moment just before they step onto a stage and the thought that blows through their brain: “Here goes ….” as they leap into the unknown. They love the thrill of “Anything can happen tonight. I wonder what will.” They love the challenge of the balance between technique and trusting the unknown.

    Stewart and Knight love that work. And they are playing characters who love it as well. An actor caught with a broken zipper must go on. Etiquette on and off stage must be observed. Staged fights need precision. The sound of your own voice is an endless process of discovery. And after the show, well, it can be a lonely time in the old town.

    We see these scenes almost as if they were scenery passing by us. This is like being on a slow train in the English countryside where you see enough of people’s lives to make a story out of each one, but not enough to get you involved. To add insult to injury, nearly a third of the scenes are played as if we were all backstage watching the actors work. They face upstage and must do double duty – they project to an audience who is not there and hope that their profiles or backsides are strong enough to let us know what is going on.

    As it turns out, we do get it, but that is because these actors lift this gauzy script up and make it much better than it is. They fashion whole cloth out of threads by sheer skill and will.

    If A Life in the Theatre has any purpose at all, it will be at a future date when Stewart and Knight will work together again in a play that has what this script lacks: a story. PS – The crew should take a bow at curtain call because they spend nearly as much time onstage, changing the set, as the actors do.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "In trying to look big, “A Life in the Theatre,” directed here by Neil Pepe, has never seemed smaller."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "Though it's called "A Life in the Theatre," it can be difficult to detect any vital signs in the sluggish Broadway revival."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "It's a trifle, but one that's dished out by Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight (the puppyish George on "Grey's Anatomy"), two skilled, likable stars with a mellow chemistry and spot-on timing."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "What is sorely lacking is a plot or character development, and certainly affection for the hapless actors which might enlist our empathy. What action there is mostly involves stagehands moving scenery around, so much so, and so visibly, that I wondered whether they shouldn’t be listed as cast. "
    John Simon for Bloomberg

    "Fast-paced and fun revival."
    David Sheward for Back Stage

    "There isn't much to "A Life in the Theatre," but what there is is quite entertaining."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "It’s not his best work but it’s a refreshing departure from the hard-edged, profanity-laden dramas that have defined a Mamet play. And heck, if it isn't pretty darn good."
    Roma Torre for NY1

    "Not the most memorable show you will ever see, it certainly represents an agreeable time with a couple of excellent players exercising their craft."
    Michael Summers for Newsroom Jersey

    "Although the laughs still land, the affection that softens the satire is undercut by the melancholy tone struck in the first moments of the show. . "
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Bloomberg - Back Stage - The Record- Newsroom Jersey - Variety