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‘A Life in the Theatre’

2009 November 12
Photo: Greg Mooney

Photo: Greg Mooney

If  “A Life in the Theatre” were as interesting as Andre De Shields is in its lead role at the Alliance Theatre, I’d say David Mamet had written a winner.

The screenwriter (“The Verdict” and “Wag the Dog”) and playwright who penned such notables as “American Buffalo,” “Speed-the-Plow,” “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” and “Glengarry Glen Ross,” preceded them all with “A Life in the Theatre,” which played in a New York theater in the Village in 1977.

“A Life in the Theatre” presents snippets of the lives of two theater actors who are part of an acting company. Robert (Andres de Shilds) is an experienced actor around age 60, and John (Ariel Shafir) is a neophyte around age 25.

Scene: In the greenroom just after a performance, Robert and John discuss the stage performance they just gave–what made it great and what could have been better. They connect the most when they agree the actress they shared the stage with overacted horribly.

Scene: On the battlefield. Backstage John and Robert, dressed in Army fatigues, kiss each other on the lips. Kaboom! They run downstage with their rifles, huddle behind a sandbag barricade and fight the enemy.

Scene: In the 1600s(?) in Romania, or France, or Russia. The exact date and place of all the scenes are unknown.  John portrays a servant to Robert, who portrays an old decrepit woman (or man?) who wears a robe with a flowing train. As the elderly character slowly crosses the stage, comedy blinks. The flowing train of the robe extends all the way from one end of the stage to the next. Both master and servant are dressed in white wigs, brocade garments and high heeled shoes. In what looks like a scene from a haunted movie from the 1930s, as the master slowly relaxes in her/his chair, the servant stabs his master, who claws his fingers and grimaces while dying a gruesome death.

Scene: Inside a sci-fi doctor’s office an unusal creature with a very large head lies on a silver gurney under bright lights. Two doctors argue while pulling the innards out of the creature.

Scene: John, now an experienced actor after many years of working in the theater, finds Robert in the shower wearing tight boxer shorts. Robert is holding a white towel around his wrist and has blood smeared in large splotches on his boxers. Blood drips down his arms. John offers to call a doctor, but Robert insists he not.

Does the play have a plot? Does anyone care about Robert and John?

Not I.

As for the real actors: Andres de Shields is fantastic!

“A Life in the Theatre” runs at the Alliance Theatre through this weekend.

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