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David Mamet's "A Life in the Theatre" at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
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David Mamet's "A Life in the Theatre" at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

A Life in the Theatre

By David Mamet
(David Mamet Bio)
Directed by Neil Pepe

Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street

Scenic Design: Santo Loquasto
Costume Design: Laura Bauer
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Wig Design: Charles LaPointe
Casting: Telsey + Company
Fight Choreographer: J. David Brimmer
Production Stage Manager: Matthew Silver
Technical Supervision: Hudson Theatrical Assoc.
Press Representative: Jeffrey Richards Assoc./
Irene Gandy/Alana Karpoff
General Management: Richards/Climan, Inc.
Assoc. Producers: Jeremy Scott Blaustein,
Shane Marshall Brown, Matthew Salloway
Company Manager: Mary Miller

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 23, 2010 Matinee

This revival of Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre was tedious, inane, and even, at times, agonizing. Two iconic and veteran actors, of stage, screen, and small screen, Patrick Stewart (“Star Trek”) and T. R. Knight (“Grey’s Anatomy”), portray two actors, one veteran (Stewart) as Robert, and one aspiring (Knight) as John. This intermission-less play consists of vignettes, as Robert and John banter backstage, at the makeup table, and onstage, in scenes from harrowing war, unfaithful marriage, Russian homestead, and more. The relationship of the actors deals with vigor and aging, self-consciousness and confidence, nurturing and distancing, trust and suspicion, humor and the absence of humor. The latter, a state of static existence, seemed so non-Mamet, that I was actually shocked that this play was his. Verbal fireworks and mind-games, so prevalent in Mamet’s Race and Speed-the-Plow, both recently seen on nearby stages, were replaced here with non-sequitors and lackluster vaudevillian antics. For example, costume, makeup, or prop malfunctions certainly don’t have the timing or gesture of Sid Caesar or Jackie Gleason. They’re more akin to the banter or mishaps of a short-lived TV sitcom, without the laugh track.

Mamet’s 1977 play first opened Off-Broadway, and, again in that setting, with experienced humorists, even two actresses, it could be dynamic and endearing. But here, with Mr. Stewart and Mr. Knight, it took on a level of creepiness, with the emotional dependence and neediness of an aging actor toward his counterpart, an upbeat, youthful spirit. Mr. Mamet seemed repressed throughout, and Mr. Knight seemed confined. This was ironic, considering the expanse of the Schoenfeld stage, that smothered the lines with cluttered sets and dim lighting. Language is critical, after all this is the Broadway stage, and a two-actor dialogue, in a dozen small scenes, needs proximity of audience, not rafters and tiers. I’d like to see A Life in the Theatre again on a small stage with comedic pros. Pathos and poignancy abound, but the lines beg for laughter, and there was little at today’s matinee. Kudos to Santo Loquasto for creating the diversified sets within a set, and kudos to Laura Bauer and Charles LaPointe for the many eye-catching costumes and wigs. Neil Pepe directed, but with a result of uncharacteristic ennui.

T.R. Knight and Patrick Stewart
in David Mamet's "A Life in the Theatre"
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at