“Artistic experimentation is shit… Two actors, some lines… and an audience. That’s way I say. Fuck ’em all.” So says Robert (Bill Van Horn, who also directed) in David Mamet’s amusing A LIFE IN THE THEATRE, now onstage in Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3. LIFE focuses on the simple interplay of two actors backstage at a repertory company: young John (Davy Raphaely) and much experienced Robert. It’s an affectionate look at life in the theater—”the bars, the house, the drafty halls, the penciled scripts”—smiling at the vanity and pretense of the players, the poorly rendered accents (including a delightfully bad exaggeration of American dialect), and the accidental magic of putting on a play. But as Robert blusters “our aspirations in the theatre are much the same as man’s.”
So although each of the 26 scenes (the plotline is diffuse: this is artistic experimentation.) takes place backstage or looking in from the rear of the stage, Mamet uses the relationship between the two actors to give insight to life outside. (The many changes are smooth though sometimes long, but eased by J. Dominic Chacon’s unobtrusive and varied lighting design.) As the play begins, John is eager to seek Robert’s approval (“I value your opinion”) and invite him to dinner. By the end, the younger generation has superseded the older, and Robert departs alone: “The lights dim. Each to his own home. Goodnight. Goodnight. Goodnight.” [Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut Street] January 13-February 1, 2015; walnutstreettheatre.org.