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'Life' is beautiful: 3 stars for 'A Life in the Theatre'

T.R. Knight and Patrick Stewart

T.R. Knight and Patrick Stewart Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

A Life in the Theatre

3 stars

“A Life in the Theatre” offers a rare opportunity to see Patrick Stewart perform something other than Shakespeare or “Star Trek” and hear a David Mamet play with practically no curse words.

This comedic drama from 1977 is unusually affectionate and nostalgic for Mamet, who is best known for his rapid-fire, fast-paced, rat-a-tat style of language laced with expletives. Though a minor curiosity compared to more substantial plays such as “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Oleanna,” Mamet’s reflections prove to be both sincere and entertaining.

Intended to candidly depict life on the wicked stage from the actor’s point of view, “A Life” consists of short scenes depicting a pair of actors — Robert (Stewart), an aging veteran, and John (T.R. Knight), a fresh-faced newcomer — both onstage and offstage.

While there is no formal plot, Robert looks to pass on his experience and wisdom to John. However, their mentor-mentee relationship shifts as Robert slowly slips into senility and John matures, gains confidence and even receives better reviews.

In addition to watching them discuss traditions of the theater, we observe the mishaps and disasters that occur while they co-star in ridiculous plays in front of an audience. At one point, Robert performs an entire scene while desperately trying to hide the broken zipper on his pants.

Stewart makes a full dramatic sweep from self-obsessed diva to helpless and insecure senior. Knight, whose role is admittedly less compelling,
makes a fine counterweight and convincingly portrays John’s evolution in attitude.

If you go: “A Life in the Theatre” plays at the Schoenfeld Theatre through Jan. 2. 236 W. 45th St., 212-239-6200, lifeinthetheatre.com.

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