In a crowded hallway near the base of the Calgary tower, dozens of eager theatre goers look on as Lunchbox Theatre's board member and CEO James Bailey cuts a crimson ribbon unveiling Lunchbox's brand new space. After all the speeches and thanks, the show begins: David Mamet's classic comedy A Life in The Theatre, directed by Martin Fishman. The wonderfully executed production certainly did justice to the new space and makes an excellent lunchtime diversion for any lover of the thespian arts.
Though Mamet has recently made a name for himself as a prominent film and television writer, he got his start as a playwright and the new Lunchbox production shows the very best of vintage Mamet. A Life in the Theatre is a story of two stage actors from different generations, Robert (Martin Evans) a seasoned theatre veteran and John (Braden Griffiths) his neophyte colleague. It chronicles the evolution of their relationship over the course of their careers together on stage. Their ups and downs slowly reveal deeper underlying tensions of generation, age and experience. Told through a series of brief vignettes, we see how these tensions shape the actors' sense of self and their attitudes towards the craft to which they are devoted.
Evans and Griffiths faithfully capture the quick wit of Mamet's dialogue with excellent timing, letting none of the script's clever subtleties slip by unnoticed. Their onstage chemistry is palpable, lending an impressive level of believability to their characters' relationship, which is an especially impressive achievement given the short, approximately 45-minute run time. Evans' performance is especially strong, his wonderfully expressive gestures and booming vocal showing captivated the attention of the entire audience. While Griffiths' portrayal of John was slightly overshadowed by Evans' expert showing, the quality of the acting as a whole was still top-notch.
The new Lunchbox space, located in the lot of a former Mercedes dealership, is both spacious and intimate. The set itself is rather simple, consisting of only a couple of dressing room mirrors and a coat rack. However, the stage design takes full advantage of the beautiful surrounding area. The stage extends all the way across the centre of the room, with the audience rows flanking on either side. This layout no doubt must have complicated Fishman's stage direction, yet he succeeds splendidly.
While at times absurd, and at others simply hilarious, A Life in The Theatre has just as much heart as it does humour. The struggle Robert and John face is a timeless tale of old versus new. At the centre of this story is a deeply sad tale of generational alienation, faded glory and acceptance of the unknown.