David Mamet couldn't have asked for a better revival of his 1977 play, A Life in the Theatre, which opened on Tuesday night under the direction of Neil Pepe. The show flies by in a little over ninety minutes, highlighting Robert's (Patrick Stewart) lament that "it all goes by so fast." It unfolds through a series of short scenes between veteran actor Robert and his younger counterpart John (T.R. Knight). We get to see the two backstage as well as in scenes from fictitious plays that Mamet's crafted. The latter scenes help illustrate the frustrations of the actors and wisely keep the play from being just about them venting to the audience. In one Chekhov-inspired scene, John is thrown when a window handle comes off as he tries to close it. In another, Robert's forced to improvise his blocking when the zipper of his pants breaks shortly before showtime. They're little moments but played to great comic effect by Stewart and Knight, crafted by Pepe who seems to be completely in tune with the play's rhythm. There isn't really anything to be improved upon in this comic gem about how hard it is to work in the theatre, and it's nice to see this lesser known Mamet play finally getting the production it deserves.
Carnegie Hall's Notables series for young donors in their 20s and 30s hosted an evening of second chances last week with Redemption Song, a discussion with musicians who have struggled with substance abuse hosted by the straight-edged Henry Rollins. The lineup was impressive for fans of '70s and '80s rock with Kiss lead guitarist Ace Frehley and Guns N' Roses drummer Steven Adler, but panelist (and former heroin addict) Rickie Lee Jones stole the show playing a couple songs, including the beautifully fractured ballad, "The Magazine", about a junkie desperately trying to score. The combination of understated lyrics and a musical blend of folk, blues, and jazz left a more meaningful impression than the discussion, which often felt like a celebrity NA meeting.
The discussions at the New Yorker Festival have become kind of legendary with events often selling out just minutes after they go on sale. For those who missed the action this year, the New Yorker is streaming many of the events online for a small fraction of the cost. They have some of my favorite events, including a panel on sex and violence with authors Joyce Carol Oates, Junot Diaz, and Wells Tower. I was familiar with the first two, but hadn't heard of Tower, who has some of the most thoughtful observations on the subject. It's sparked my interest in his work, and I can't wait to read his short story collection. My hands down favorite this year, though, was the Moth show that brought together New Yorker writers to tell stories about working for the magazine. It was a fascinating little peek inside the inner-workings of the prestigious publication hosted by the always funny Moth regular and New Yorker contributor Andy Borowitz.
As a side note, Andy's Borowitz Report panel on the midterm elections will be at the 92nd Street Y on October 20th. Alec Baldwin will be one of the guests along with New Yorker staffer Jeffrey Toobin, who told an interesting story about uncovering the Mark Fuhrman scandal for the magazine. The Cartoon Caption Contest is also available to stream if you have the sadistic desire to watch groups of people struggling to come up with something half-witty while downing breakfast cocktails as time clicks away (I was there, and it wasn't pretty, though the mimosas helped). There're also others I missed, including a talk by Malcolm Gladwell (I saw him interview the sportswriter Bill Simmons), a panel on SNL, and a talk with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. All these are available (except the Simmons interview) for five bucks a pop or as an event pass to let you create your own New Yorker Festival.