Review – A Life in the Theater – Schoenfeld Theater NYC

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With only one week to see shows in New York, what was I going to see? I have been dividing my time between ballet and theater, but ballet was easy; there’s really only one place to go (City Ballet) and it was just a matter of figuring out which casts I wanted to see. In figuring out which plays to see, I used Steve On Broadway’s website, which has listings of new show openings, and picked from them … well, amongst other shows, A Life in the Theater, because 1) it’s by David Mamet, who I think writes good plays 2) it is only 90 minutes long, leaving me time to socialize with my hostess 3) it has Patrick Stewart in it, and he rocked my socks as Macbeth a few years back. So, tickets in my grubby hands, my hostess and I headed to Times Square and ducked down a little street (full of amazing theaters!) for our $75, 3rd row (but rather a bit off to the side) seats.

To my disappointment, the audience gave Stewart an ovation for the act of walking on stage. People! He is an actor, wait to applaud until he’s actually done some acting! However, once that was over, we settled down to a very pleasant show with a shocking lack of swearing (though it was funny to hear four letter words in such distinguished tones). The play is set up as a series of scenes between two actors, done back stage, on stage, in the wings, after the show, et cetera, though always in the theater. I thought it was going to be kind of “All About Eve” ish, with the young actor, John, (T.R. Knight) trying to step over the established pro Robert (Stewart); but the scenes they were shown doing on stage didn’t indicate that the younger really was ever understudy to the older. Instead, it was more about the older actor passing on the traditions of the theater to the younger one … but also about the younger actor rising up in his career and sort of getting to the point where the older one, rather than feeling superior because of his knowledge, is now feeling insecure because his career is fading in comparison to John’s.

However … this may have been a theme and what created the “story,” such as it was, but what I liked about this play was not the character development so much as the scenes they did when they were actually on stage during shows. There are a lot of things that can go wrong during a show, and I LOVE it when I get a chance to see an actor having to ad-lib or otherwise dig himself out of an unexpected situation on stage (like the time the power went off when I was watching a Theater Schmeater show in Seattle, or when the chair collapsed in Too Close to the Sun) as the tension is nearly unbearable. This show had several scenes in which the actors were forced to deal with a variety of such catastrophes, and while I realize these were probably not what this show was about, they were just so damned funny that, well, if I had any question in mind about whether or not to recommend this show, they’re what have pushed me over into the OMG so funny MUST SEE camp. Sure, the acting is good (Knight seemed fine but not amazing, Stewart glowed in his role, handling both comedy and pathos well), but what mattered to me is that it was a good night out, 90 nearly perfect minutes, absolutely up my alley as a topic, and some laughs like a cherry on top of the deep stuff. I think $70 was still too much to pay for this (given how spoiled I am by UK theater pricing), but I was really glad to have a chance to see this show and I’ll be pushing it to all of my friends as a perfect after work treat.

(This review is for the evening preview performance that took place on Wednesday, October 6th, 2010. A Life in the Theater officially opens October 12th and runs through January 2nd, 2011.)

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