Review: Theatre in the Park’s ‘A Life in the Theatre’ is Bittersweet, Humorous, and Mesmerizing

By Kim Jackson

A Life in the Theatre starring the father-son duo, Ira David Wood III and Ira David Wood IV, is a darkly humorous behind-the-scenes tour of life as a stage actor. Written by dialogue master David Mamet, this play serves as the perfect vehicle to highlight the engaging chemistry between two accomplished actors.

As the aging veteran actor, Robert, the elder Wood evokes a professorial tone as he pontificates about the theatre to a new, younger actor, John. The younger Wood displays the eager, naivete enthusiasm of a performer at the start of his career. Their initial meetings are engaging, and the camaraderie between father and son slides into a focused rendering of their individual characters. It’s a reflective and captivating dynamic playing out on stage that appears to mirror the actors’ real life.

What follows are a series of vignettes wherein the two actors perform scenes from a variety of other fictitious shows. At times we, the live audience, are watching the back of the performers as they deliver lines to an imagined gallery of theatergoers. The reversed set in which the curtain and footlights appear upstage, away from us, along with some clever rolling props and a  wardrobe rack, which are placed downstage, serve as a constant reminder that this is a play about a play.

The interaction of the two characters is both humorous and bittersweet as their relationship shifts with the passage of time. Robert’s lectures lapse into ceaseless droning, and John becomes increasingly frustrated with Robert’s well-intentioned criticism and unsolicited advice. The dark side of acting, broken props, missed cues, and bad reviews, accent the distressing signs of a shifting relationship. And even as circumstances change, the theatre itself is the tie the binds.

Mamet has pulled the literal curtain up on the backstage lives of these two men to draw attention to how life in theatre reflects life in general. And this production is doubly engaging since the duo performing in it are not only well-known beloved icons of the local theatre community but also father and son. It’s the hand-off of a legacy from one generation to the next, as life imitates art and vice versa. And the privilege of bearing witness to that in this setting is truly mesmerizing.

A Life in the Theatre runs through February 24th. For more information visit: https://www.theatreinthepark.com/.

To hear what Ira David Wood III and Ira David Wood IV have to say about their life in the theatre, download the RDU on Stage podcast (Episode 4) here.

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