Theater Review - Backstage pass - A Life in the Theatre

A Life in the Theatre

A glitch disrupted the first moments of David Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre when I attended a matinee at Theatre in the Square. A speaker emitted a disorienting buzz roughly as loud as the two actors, who eventually broke character, asked if the audience could hear them, and eventually went backstage and started anew after the problem was fixed.

At any other play such a snafu would either throw off the whole show or go ignored completely. Such a mistake fits so neatly with A Life in the Theatre’s themes, and provided such a direct means of engaging the audience’s sympathies, that it couldn’t have worked better if they planned it. Mamet’s brief, bittersweet show follows two actors — aging veteran Robert (Peter Thomasson) and rising star John (Neal A. Ghant) — across several theatrical seasons, and makes a running joke of things going wrong onstage. The two thespians endure missed cues, botched lines and even wardrobe malfunctions.

Mamet affectionately captures the kind of gossip, snit-fits and passionate outbursts that take place offstage or at the makeup table. Just because the often-corrosive playwright wrote a love letter to stagecraft, however, doesn’t mean he put away his poison pen. Robert advises John to maintain a personal life outside the artistic pursuit, but we soon realize that the older man has nothing to live for besides acting. When Robert quizzes John about where he’s going after the show every night, Thomasson makes his neediness palpable and uncomfortable. He could be the bohemian brother to the obsolete real estate salesman in Glengarry Glen Ross (and, in fact, Jack Lemmon played both roles).

Director John Stephens doesn’t let the melancholy qualities overshadow the play’s many humorous touches, such as the way one actor bristles at another’s remark, “Could you, perhaps, do less?” Nearly all of the scenes from the plays within the play hark back to the kind of cornball melodramas that almost never get produced nowadays, making the actors’ efforts seem more amusing and pointless than if they were doing Shakespeare each night.

A Life in the Theatre offers the double-edged tribute of Mamet saluting true-blue stage artists while advising the newcomers: “Don’t let this happen to you.”

A Life in the Theatre. $18-$33. Tues., 8 p.m.; Wed., 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 2:30 and 7 p.m. Through Nov. 12. Theatre in the Square, 11 Whitlock Ave., Marietta. 770-422-8369.