Theatre Review: Passing on Mamet’s torch

The opportunity to take in a play by well-respected playwright David Mamet doesn’t present itself often in Calgary. Luckily for eager thespians, Sage Theatre is extending such an opportunity by ending their 2005-2006 season with the Pulitzer Prize winner’s A Life in the Theatre.

“Mamet uses the theatre as a metaphor for life,” asserts Joel Smith who plays John in the play. “It is an ode to the changing of the guard.”

The play examines the lives of two actors, John, the new up-and-comer, and Robert, the more mature actor and mentor. Robert is played by well-established Calgary actor Stephen Hair.

“The play certainly mirrors some of Stephan’s and my situations, of our place in the production,” comments Smith. “[The play] was written by somebody who has a deep love for something about a place in life that remains quite relevant.”

Mamet’s work is characterized by playful plots and typically features strong male characters complete with their tough posturings, and rhythmically profane dialogue. However, A Life in the Theatre lacks much of the profanity and gritty machismo of his more widely acclaimed dramas. Smith maintains that the profanity and machismo are just by-products of the characters’ natural dialogue. This particular play features a unique dichotomy between the characters warranting different treatment from the playwright.

“His writing is about rhythm and language, how people speak,” Smith insists. “It is difficult to get used to because it is more real, there are quick bits of conversation that then lead up to a long pause.”

Such pauses can be difficult to exact but Smith is confident he has them figured out.

“It is like ‘what the hell’ in the first few weeks of rehearsal but then you get an understanding of why that pause is there and it begins to become a natural organic form of speech and part of that rhythm.”

Smith believes A Life in the Theatre‘s message is much more encompassing than one might expect.

“It is called A Life in the Theatre, it takes place in a theatre, but it is not just about the theatre,” Smith says. “It is about mentors, the teacher/student relationship where you step beyond learning about a subject and towards life. We try harder to understand life as we get older, and Robert and John’s relationship in this play is a slice of life, a model for all mentor/student relationships.”

It will probably be awhile before another Mamet play graces Calgary. Fortunately, A Life in the Theatre provides a perfect Mamet fix.

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