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October 13, 2010

TT: Mamet, with an accent

I review the Broadway premiere of David Mamet's A Life in the Theatre in the Greater New York section of today's Wall Street Journal, and the verdict is mostly very positive. Here's an excerpt.

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David Mamet is the most American of playwrights. Not only do his snarlingly competitive characters take a zero-sum view of human relationships, but they express it with words that fly through the air like bullets in search of a body. So what could have possessed Patrick Stewart--make that Sir Patrick Stewart--to wrestle with "A Life in the Theatre," Mr. Mamet's 1977 play about a pair of actors, one old and one young, who are battling for dominance over one another? Beats me, but I'm glad it did, for Mr. Stewart's performance, strange though it may sound from time to time, is in the end both deeply comprehending and painfully touching, just like the play itself.

I can't think why it took so long for "A Life in the Theatre" to get to Broadway. It's a natural, a two-character comedy with a wrenchingly serious coda and a plum part for a first-class actor who is capable of convincingly portraying a tired old ham. As usual, Mr. Mamet tells us nothing about his characters beyond the words that they speak, but we are, I think, invited to suppose that Robert (Mr. Stewart) and John (T.R. Knight) are working together in the kind of second-rate repertory company that shoves a new production onto the boards every week or two, ready or not. In many of the 26 scenes, we see Robert and John doing their best to stagger through a series of underrehearsed scripts (one of which is a cruelly clever Eugene O'Neill parody). Elsewhere we look on as Robert tries to make John his protégé, hosing him down with gaseous lectures about the craft of theater...

Mr. Stewart plays Robert very much in the English manner, and at first I feared that his pacing would be unidiomatically deliberate (I smiled to hear him wring five finicky syllables out of the word "specifically"). Then I let go of my preconceptions and started watching the performance he was giving instead of the one I wanted to see, and before long I'd stopped keeping score and was enthralled....

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The print version of the Journal's Greater New York section only appears in copies of the paper published in the New York area, but the complete contents of the section are available on line, and you can read my review of A Life in the Theatre by going here.

Posted October 13, 2010 12:00 AM

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