Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

A Life in the Theatre
The NonProphet Theater Company

Also see Richard's review of Lip Service

Charlie Barron and Mark Abels
I've only wanted to race back to the book store once in my life to demand a refund: it was after I'd purchased a copy of David Mamet's book on acting, True and False. It's subtitled, "Heresy", so I suppose I should have expected a ruthless attack on everything actors believe about their craft, or about themselves. What terrible clashes, during his many great plays, must he have had with performers? I wondered, as I finally threw the book aside, simmering with rage. (P.S., Mr. Mamet: you owe me $7.95.)

But 20 years before that book came out, the playwright managed to channel his wrath into a much higher form in a one-act titled A Life in the Theatre. And in the newest incarnation of that play, director B. Weller has built the psychological presence of his two actors up to such hyper-sensitive, hilarious, planetary proportions that their smallest word or pause may elicit roars of laughter from anyone who's ever spent much time on stage, or behind it.

That's a key phrase, right there: back stage. Some people hate back stage comedies, probably because such shows are too narrow and the meaning of the usual ticks and tirades might be lost on the average audience. But, ever ready (as I am) with a present-day metaphor, let me suggest that the astounding self-involvement of the older Robert (Mark Abels) and the smoldering torment of the younger John (Charlie Barron) work equally well as representations of the normal political climate in Washington D.C., for example. That may, at least, get you in the door, even if you've never been back stage before.

And, not to go on and on, but what other sub-genre of theatre can claim to be more honest and authentic? Actors playing soldiers? Actors playing shipwreck victims? Actors playing doctors? None of these has the automatic credibility of actors playing actors, and the theater's own glimpse behind the mysterious black curtain.

Somewhere in the middle of the play, Robert glides into a dressing room before another performance and observes (with simple, but unbearable grandeur), "a make-up table." John, already applying his eye-liner, flinches ever so slightly, and one by one, the older man's totemic listing of each object around them vests even the pencils and brushes with a hateful reverence. A lot of people in the audience won't get every inside joke, but then again, this may be the most "back stage" of all back stage comedies - and easily, as performed here, one of the funniest.

We get occasional glimpses of the two men's on-stage life as well, with plays about (yes) war, castaways, doctors, and (in the most Mametian self-parody) about infidelity, as well. But the most terrifying events, and the most outrageous, involve the actors' hushed agony as they try to make sense of their own undirected moments, grasping at anything that might validate them as human beings: as the older actor repeats again and again, "ephemeral, ephemeral."

Mr. Mamet, your $7.95 debt is paid.

A Life in the Theatre, a 75 minute one-act, is paired with a withering portrait of modern broadcast journalism, Howard Korder's Lip Service, through April 20, 2008. The double-bill is staged at the Tin Ceiling Theater in south St. Louis, at Compton Ave. and Cherokee St. (3159 Cherokee). For more information, call 314-752-5075 or email

Mark Abels: Robert
Charlie Barron: John

Director: B. Weller
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Sarah Holt
Light Design: Nick Uhlmansiek
Set Design & Construction: Nick Uhlmansiek
Costume Design: Theresa Masters
Sound Board: Brendan Allen
Projector: Jonathan Ellison
Sound Design: B. Weller
House Manager: Suzanne Roussin

Photo by Tyson Blanquart

-- Richard T. Green

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