A Life in the Theatre
Schoenfeld Theatre, NYC
My most enjoyable, or certainly the most intellectually challenging, evenings of theatre tend to be when either David Mamet or Tom Stoppard is the playwright. Both revel in language and convoluted mental gymnastics.
Mamet has been all over the map, with books, screenplays and film direction to his impressive list of credits. His current Broadway offering is an effort to pay tribute to, well, a life in the theatre. Unfortunately, despite some witty observations, the uncharacteristic lack of a compelling story arc leaves one shifting uncomfortably in the seat. A series of mostly disjointed vignettes attempts to shine a light on a pair of actors’ deteriorating relationship.
The older actor, played admirably by the always impressive Patrick Stewart, is seen initially as the font of wisdom. The younger actor, played by TR Knight first admires then admonishes the older actor.
Some of the vignettes last only a minute or two, and leave the audience perplexed. Other sequences are better developed, leading through some hilarious lines. There are several plays within the play, or rather a series of scenes inside the play. The duo changes costumes, from pirates to WW1 soldiers to French revolutionaries to Bolsheviks. It takes time for the audience to realize that these are likely more than one play within the play, and the myriad internal plays are intended to track the passage of time. It is a clever device by Mamet, but perhaps too clever by half (as the Brits would say).
The elder actor’s wisdom early in the play soon gives way to pronouncements and soliloquies that sound good, with all the right words in place, but the message is oblique. And in the end we are left with empty important words.