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Review: Kinetic Theatre’s Production of Davis Mamet’s ‘A Life in The Theatre’

By BOB HOOVER

Calling his current season “A Pair of Deuces,” Kinetic Theatre’s producing director Andrew Paul presents a double dose of David Mamet – A Life in The Theatre (1977) and Oleanna (!992).

The earlier play reveals Mamet searching to find his style of aphoristic dialogue, pausing and stumbling for the right word in an attempt to imitate the speech of real people. He wasn’t quite there yet. His 1983  Glengarry Glen Ross, was the award-winning realization of his style.

A Life in Theatre has its Mamet moments, though. The one-act play of 26 short scenes delves into the lives of actors on and off the stage: Robert at the end of his career and John at the start.

Sam Tsoutsouvas, a familiar presence on Pittsburgh stages whose career began in the 1960s, is perfectly cast as the aging, pompous Robert who can’t help lecturing John. “I’ve made a fetish of imperfection,” he proudly tells John. “You can learn a lot by not talking,” he advises while never shutting up.

Joseph McGranaghan is a frequent player in regional theater. His character’s growing career gradually overshadows Robert’s. At first, he listens respectively to the veteran actor’s cliches and bragging but finally yells “Shut up!” to Robert’s inane chatter about makeup, or as he labels it, “MAKE UP.”

Embarrassed, Robert accuses John of a “breach of etiquette” as their relationship goes downhill.

A Life in The Theatre skewers a few traditional playwrights, including Chekhov, O’Neill, and Ibsen, as the players act out a variety of scenes full of cliches and clumsy acting that are often hilarious. Paul’s direction shines in these scenes that call for timing and movement, accompanied by a variety of costume changes cleverly designed by Mary Alice Groat.

She’s part of an expert production crew headed by stage manager Cory F. Goddard, who makes this play so entertaining. 

Staged in the black box Rauh Theater in the bowels of the Cathedral of Learning, Kinetic’s production fully uses Mamet’s work’s humor and occasional absurdity.

But all is not played for laughs. Robert’s age catches up with him. He forgets his lines, screws up an operating room scene, and is obviously over the hill. Tsoutsouvas plays these moments with a tender sadness, sending the audience home with sympathy for the end of a career.

In the program, Paul addresses the question, “Why bother with the aging, out-of-touch Mamet today?”

A Life in The Theatre and Oleanna are two of Mamet’s best plays from his most fertile creative period,” Paul answers. “They provide absolutely stunning roles for actors and contrast beautifully, fully displaying the skill and artistry of their creator.”

Kinetic’s first round of Mamet confirms Paul’s answer.

TICKETS AND DETAILS

A Life in The Theatre by David Mamet, produced by Kinetic Theatre with performances through June 30, 2024 . Tickets: kinetictheatre.org or 412-225-9145

Kinetic’s production of Oleanna by David Mamet runs July 11-28, 2024. Tickets: kinetictheatre.org or 412-225-9145