Theater note: A tedious “Life in the Theatre”


The Jungle Theater is the Twin Cities’ lone professional, Off-Broadway-caliber venue devoted to white theater. The company produces white playwrights, works with white directors, and, with rare exceptions, employs white actors. Which is fair, since places like Mixed Blood Theatre, Penumbra Theatre Company, and Pillsbury House Theater make it their mission to hire professionals of color. After all, white is a color too, and Caucasian folks are entitled to have an intimate, quality house in which to see their culture and sensibilities reflected.

A Life in the Theatre, a play written by David Mamet and directed by Bain Boehlke. Presented through October 26 at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis. For tickets ($26-$36) and information, see

Founding artistic director Bain Boehlke has staged a library of scripts that include such names as Dylan Thomas, Eugene O’Neill, William Inge and more—though, interestingly enough, not many females, leaving a window wide open for someone to come along and establish a theater company for women (white, of color, what have you). Presently at the Jungle is A Life in the Theatre by David Mamet, a profoundly gifted icon who usually writes crisp, compelling scripts and walked away with the Pulitzer Prize for his absorbing drama Glengarry Glen Ross.

Mamet customarily proves himself to be a master, drawing characters so lifelike they remind you of people you know, spinning dialogue so authentic it sounds like people simply talking to each other, and creating stories that play like people’s very lives. Every once in a while, though, even he goofs. For instance, his film Heist is just too full of glib, witty quips: his characters walk around cracking wise until they all sound exactly like one another. Oleanna, with hardly any story arc, threatens to talk itself to death before finally being salvaged by a strong climax. A Life in the Theatre makes good on such a threat, but doesn’t have any story arc at all or a climax to eventually save it. (It does, however, have a thankfully short second act.)

Witless to the point of excruciating boredom, A Life in the Theatre purports to be about a veteran stage actor relating to a young up-and-comer in varied situations—backstage, onstage, cooling their heels between jobs—as they share an existence in their chosen, rarified field. In actuality, the play is a string of disjointed bits, none of which go anywhere, in which Mamet’s dialogue basically panhandles for laughs. Eventually, the play simply ends, the lights come up and it’s time for the audience to go home.

Boehlke (also the production’s director and set designer) is a marvelous, chameleon-like actor and thoroughly convinces as Robert, the insufferably self-important veteran—but he can’t breathe life into the stillborn script. Playing the young pro, John, Robin Everson is bland as a blank wall. The Jungle generally mounts top-notch fare, so this show can be chalked up as an uncharacteristic glitch.

Next up at the Jungle, in November, the wondrously talented Claudia Wilkens stars in Stephen Temperley’s Souvenir. Meanwhile, take a pass. A Life in the Theatre, though written by one of America’s most gifted writers, disappointingly turns out to be a study in tedium.

Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.

Jungle Theater in the Daily Planet:
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Jay Gabler on Hedwig and the Angry Inch (July 2008)