As the title implies, David Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre, onstage now at Theatre in the Park under the direction of Ira David Wood III, is as much about theatre as it is about life. After all, as the show posits, aren’t the two inextricably connected?
It is this theme that Mamet’s short play, filled with dense dialogue, explores. It does so through close examination of an older actor, Robert (Ira David Wood III) and a younger one, John (Ira David Wood IV). The pair meet doing something they both love- acting, and, as the years pass, they are involved in many productions with one another. Even more important than their onstage adventures, however, are the conversations they share between and behind the scenes.
Mamet’s dialogue, which is so jam-packed that the play honestly deserves a few viewings for full appreciation, has these characters tackling questions about how to find connection in life and with an audience and about what “success” truly means. The dialogue dissects all the lives people live, onstage, offstage, and sometimes concurrently.
Fortunately, these strong actors handle the tough dialogue with ease, changing tone and inflection to let the audience know when something especially important is about to be delivered. The elder Wood is believable and sympathetic as the older actor who is slowly losing his ability to perform as he once did. Wood III effectively conveys Robert’s confusing mixture of pride at the success of his young friend, as well as the envy bubbling underneath the surface. Likewise, the younger Wood effectively handles John’s sometimes-reverent, often-frustrated treatment of Robert. Together, the duo, which shares a to-be-expected natural chemistry, brings these two characters to life and helps the audience to understand the profound connection and understanding between them.
The strong story and jam-packed dialogue don’t demand much in the way of setting, and the production keeps things mostly bare to allow the writing to garner the audience’s full attention. There are, however, some nicely-used set pieces, including a hilariously built “boat.” And, speaking of “hilarious,” there are moments of humor mixed into this thought-piece of a play, which helps to lighten the dark tone it sometimes takes.
Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre is not a big, gaudy show, and this production presents it accordingly. It is a thoughtful piece, well-acted, that relies on the strength of its writing. And it is that writing that speaks to viewers, especially to those involved in the arts, but, if listened to closely, it will give everyone involved in the art that is life something to ponder.
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