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Kinder, Gentler Mamet — Via Patrick Stewart, T.R. Knight — Preps for Broadway: The Clyde Fitch Report

September 30, 2010

The Brown Tweed Society is pleased to welcome new contributing partner Leonard Jacobs, Editor of The Clyde Fitch Report, who will routinely weigh in with news from the New York theater scene and ongoing arts issues.

David Mamet was still in the concluding year of his 20s when Chicago’s Goodman Theatre produced his play A Life in the Theatre in February 1977. The playwright’s distinctive works Sexual Perversity in Chicago and American Buffalo were already under his belt, of course, so his iconoclastic style was becoming familiar, but think: Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow, Oleanna and The Cryptogram, among other plays, were still yet to come.

A Life in the Theatre, which tells the tale of two actors, one younger, one older, and how the younger eventually comes to outshine and outdistance the older, then ran for nine months Off-Broadway, from October 1977 to July 1978, at the Theatre de Lys (now the Lucille Lortel). The late, great Gerald Gutierrez directed (boy, should the American theater keeping missing him or what?), and the play starred another superlative actor who, alas, has slipped off the scope — Ellis Rabb — as the older actor, and Peter Evans as the younger one.

It was during the New York production of the play that Mamet turned 30. What that unforgettably transitional moment in a man’s life in general, or Mamet’s life in particular, and what any of that had to do with A Life in the Theatre I cannot say for sure. Maybe it was nothing at all. But given the play’s nature and theme, it’s tone and outlook, it strikes me as a moment to have witnessed: Mamet appreciating his acclaim but not yet being so enamored of it. Maybe that’s why, in the case of this play, he actually allowed hints of the wistful to form droplets on the page. The old generation yielding inexorably to the new — it, too, is a melancholy rite-of-passage we all experience in this life, in or out of the theater, at first on one end of the dynamic, then later on on the other. For Mamet, that’s enough to count as sweetness.

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Visit Leonard Jacobs and The Clyde Fitch Report daily for for more posts on arts, theater and politics. Follow the Clyde Fitch Report on Twitter at @clydefitch.

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