A Life in the Theatre | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

A Life in the Theatre 

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A Life In The Theatre, Sense of Urgency Productions, at the Viaduct Theater. David Mamet has said that he spends the bulk of his playwriting time devising plots, and the laser-focused action in most of his plays bears testament to this assertion. But his 1977 A Life in the Theatre is something of an anomaly. This study of the burgeoning rivalry between two actors--one a seasoned veteran, the other a professional novice--is made up of 26 brief scenes (some only a few lines long) arranged like snapshots in an album. Instead of driving relentlessly to the finish line, this work lingers in the backstage world Mamet clearly loves, with its petty skirmishes, eggshell egos, and dying nobility.

Molding these scenes into an evening-length arc requires great directorial finesse. Unfortunately, director Ray Kasper and his ill-at-ease cast have so much trouble keeping the fragments in focus that there's little chance of a whole emerging. Ian Harris as the experienced Robert and Edwin Wilson as the neophyte John give stiff, stagy performances, rarely responding honestly or spontaneously and offering only a vague sense of the characters' intentions. It doesn't help that they appear to be separated in age by only a few years. Little here is convincing, and interminable scene changes interrupt any meager momentum that might develop.

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