THE ASBURY PARK PRESS
A Life in the Theater
A 'Life' worth examining in Manasquan
Published in the Asbury Park Press 5/12/04
By TOM CHESEK CORRESPONDENT
"A life in the theater goes so fast . . . it goes so quickly," the veteran actor muses to
nobody in particular at the end of David Mamet's much-revived paean to the player's calling,
not coincidentally titled "A Life in the Theatre."
A LIFE IN THE THEATRE
Presented by the Two River Theatre Co.
Algonquin Arts Theatre
171 Main St., Manasquan
Move it does, in director Robert Walsh's speed-the-plow staging of the Mamet text now on
display at the Algonquin Arts Theatre in Manasquan. Presented without intermission by Two River
Theatre Company as the fourth and final offering of its 2003-2004 season, "Life" follows a pair
of actors. One is an old hambone beholden to the bottle; the other is a young hopeful whose
star is on the ascendant. They form a bond over the course of what appears to be several
seasons worth of laughably self-important dramas.
Constructed as a series of blackouts, Mamet's 1977 comic duet-and-then-some (filmed for TV in
1993 as a vehicle for Jack Lemmon and Matthew Broderick) is a relatively lighter effort from
the Pulitzer-winning purveyor of "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "American Buffalo." The trademark
sailor-talk is slightly less salty, nobody gets offed and there's even something of an upbeat
note struck by the final curtain. It's a labor of love, from an energetic creator who's never
been as cynical as some of his works would have us believe.
Patrick Husted and Erik Singer share the makeup mirror in David Mamet's "A Life in the
Theatre," now at the Algonquin Theatre in Manasquan.
The "hard-hitting" dramatic pastiches are easily the funniest element of the playwright's
script. Ranging from trenchbound World War I tripe and Shakespearean shtick to soggy seafaring
drama and powdered-wig period pap, these shows-within-the-show are earnestly performed by our
two protagonists in the midst of chaos: All applicable laws of Murphy and curses of Macbeth are
visited upon the set in the form of blown cues, scenery snafus; even halftime-style wardrobe
Walsh's production hits its comic highs with a botched cigar-lighting ritual that stops a
turgid tale of boardroom intrigue in its tracks -- as well as with a heavy-handed medical
melodrama that flatlines just seconds into the scene.
Often cast in older/wiser roles alongside young John, Patrick Husted's Robert is a competitive,
controlling yet fragile and needy eggshell of an ego who's nobody's idea of a mentor. Bursting
with dozens of unsolicited opinions and theories; given over to stentorian soapbox filibusters,
the aging thespian latches on to the somewhat enigmatic John as a sounding board of sorts -- to
the point that much of John's dialogue consists of a monotonous series of "yes" and "mmmm"
responses to Robert's ravings.
Carrying physical trace elements of the delightful old character actor Hans Conried, Husted
brings a formidable professional resume to his role as Robert -- a man who, in fact, has no
life outside the theater. It's no offense to suggest that there must be a lot of Robert in
Husted, since the things that make Robert what he is -- his love for the sound of his own
voice, his confidence in his ability to work off-script, his belief that he is part of some
grandiose tradition that sets him apart from mere mortals -- are present to some degree in
every actor. For the sake of strong performances like this one, here's hoping that Husted never
loses touch with his inner Robert.
Sporting an equally awesome bio and a lanky look that suggests Young Mr. Lincoln, Erik Singer
is slower to connect with the audience in his role as John -- due largely to the lack of
memorable words put in his mouth. Both actor and character fare better in the
play-within-a-play segments; particularly a Civil War extravaganza wherein the usually reliable
John (who performs stretching exercises, does well on TV auditions and actually has friends)
panics and completely muffs an entrance cue.
This two-character play isn't really that, as it turns out. Portraying various stagehands, crew
and fellow cast members with stoic facility, Lisa Pickell and Bob Senkewicz shared the stage
for a good portion of the opening night performance; they'll be platooning in these parts with
the tag-team tandem of Matt Ballistreri and Lora Iannarelli for the duration of the show's run.
Scenery is always a tremendous asset of the Two River productions at the mighty Algonquin, and
the richly detailed (yet modular and even magically mobile) design by Neil Prince very quickly
takes on a "Life" of its own. With walls and backdrops in constant flux and perspectives
shifting from scene to scene, the effect is akin to one of those specials that purport to
reveal the secrets behind stage illusions -- and with the action even bleeding into the aisles
at one point, it's not hyperbole to suggest that Prince (who worked with director Walsh on
TRTC's 'Misalliance') is an artist who uses this eccentric old performance space as his canvas.
While not as dynamic or innovative as the previous Two River production "Miss Julie," Mamet's
not-entirely-realistic comedy is nevertheless a heartfelt capper to the Two River company's
tenth-anniversary slate of shows.
"A Life in the Theatre" continues Wednesdays through Sundays until May 23 with a mix of
afternoon and evening performances. Call (732) 345-1400 for show times, ticket prices and