Review: Blackfriars aptly handles Mamet's 'A Life in the Theatre'

02:39 PM, Jan 28, 2013


Written By Leah Stacy

If you goWhat:
A Life in the Theatre.
When: Through Feb. 10, including 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Blackfriars Theatre, 795 E. Main St.
Cost: $27.
For tickets: (585) 454-1260 or blackfriars.org.

Youth is wasted on the young,” goes the old saying by George Bernard Shaw, but playwright David Mamet might not agree.

Mamet was 30 years old when he penned A Life in the Theatre, the story of an eager young star, John, and a jaded lifelong performer, Robert. The play met with accolades and sold-out Broadway runs similar to its predecessor, American Buffalo, solidifying Mamet as an American theater legend. Of course, all legends must pass the test of time, but so far Mamet, now 65, is doing pretty well.

Glengarry Glen Ross, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984, was revived on Broadway for a second time last fall (its success due in part to Al Pacino in the leading role) and closed on Jan. 20. (Pacino also starred in the 1992 film adaptation.)

A Life in the Theatre has undergone several revivals, drawn respected actors to its script and been adapted as a feature film since it opened onstage in 1977.

It’s playing at Blackfriars Theatre through Feb. 10, a sturdy competitor for conflicting local theater offerings over the next few weekends.

In less than 90 minutes, two men perform 26 snippets of life in the theater. There is dressing room table gossip over takeout; onstage period pieces; and tech fails. It’s so Meta that it could become confusing: actors playing actors who are acting.

Director David Runzo chose his intimate cast carefully, selecting actors — David Andreatta (John) and Fred Nuernberg (Robert) — who are well-known in local theater circles and experienced enough to handle the intense repartee of the script. It’s the second time the pair has worked together in the past few years: In 2011, Nuernberg directed Andreatta in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie at Blackfriars.

Andreatta, who is an investigative reporter for the Democrat and Chronicle, is ideal in the role of John, with his boyish good looks and expressive face. The earnest tones brought to his role juxtapose the gruff mask of condescension worn at first by Nuernberg in the role of Robert. Expressive actions and reactions bring to life a mentoring relationship that rotates 180 degrees, until it seems the characters have switched roles.

The show is ultimately about more than a life spent walking the boards, and both accentuate those telling moments as they arrive. Written in trope that’s become widely known as “Mamet-speak,” the script has a rapid-fire style characterized by raw language and street-smart dialogue. Though a few scenes stumble along, there are brilliant moments from both actors.

Mamet’s plays speak to paradoxes: between the promise of youth and the memory of youth, between levels of professionalism and power. Though it falls appropriately in the body of Mamet’s work, A Life in the Theatre has a simpler nature than some of his other shows: a nudging reminder that every day has its setting sun, and nothing can last forever.

Fortunately for Rochester audiences, the show will last for a few more weeks, at least — so there’s still time to fill those seats.