Watching Theatre in the Park founder and artistic and executive director Ira David Wood III and TIP assistant artistic director Ira David Wood IV play the lead roles in David Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre is a little like listening to that James Taylor song “Traffic Jam” about seeing yourself magnified over and over again in the rearview mirror. Both Woods (father and son) have spent their lives in the theater, only to come to Mamet’s play about two actors (the veteran, Robert, played by David Wood, and the early-career actor, John, played by Ira Wood) who live their lives, personal and public, on stage.
Not only does the play offer insight into the theater itself, and what goes on backstage; but it also shows us what goes on in these actors’ lives — their personal backstage. And in this particular adaptation, the mirror against which these actors play is the Raleigh Theater in the Park audience. It’s complicated, but it’s fun, and it’s deep.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago playwright and screenwriter David Mamet writes the kind of thoughtful, often shocking, plays/stories that have defined theater since the 1970s. Many have called him the American genius of serious theater.
Like Shakespeare, Mamet has a powerful understanding of human psychology; and when a playwright has that ability, their stories become highly adaptable. At no other point in this year’s theater offerings has that been more evident than in this show.
Both David Wood and Ira Wood are well known in the Triangle theater community. Ira Wood has played in many theatrical productions, as well as TV and feature films; and he covers for his father (David Wood) at certain performances during the annual production of A Christmas Carol. David Wood is a highly-regarded actor in the Triangle, someone who has made a difference in theater in this region, and who is legendary for his annual portrayal of Scrooge in the Christmas classic.
The two-person show requires that both men use their considerable skills to play off of each other during the quick and emotionally impactful scenes that dash by with easy setting changes that often provide laughter by themselves (the boat that see-saws up and down is amazing). It’s a demanding show with brilliantly sharp lines that provide a belly-laugh in one scene and pull tears from your eyes in the next. For actors to balance that nod to the theater’s comic/dramatic masks requires a delicate sense of timing — which is another of the themes that the Mamet play delivers so well.
David Wood imbues his Robert with the stentorian, classic Shakespearean voice to paint a theater veteran who might not have ever made the big time, but who has consistently worked onstage, oftentimes in shows that seem somewhat beneath his classically trained abilities. On the other hand, Ira Wood gives his John the contemporary acting chops, complete with black leather jacket and worn-out concert T-shirts. His career is still malleable, and he rides the inconsistency (his struggle between theater and film) with a growing sense of confidence through the play.
Though both are revealed as “only human,” sometimes forgetting their lines or entering the scene at the wrong time, there is a sense that neither would throw the other under the bus. There is a sense of respect that limns their lines, and one wonders whether the respect is built into the script or whether it’s built into the relationship that they share off-stage. Whatever the case, it’s a delicate balance, and one that Robert might call “ephemeras.”
This play is about all of what has already been mentioned: the theater, both onstage and backstage; the actors themselves, their private and public lives; the artistic balance of drama and laughter; the time, both what is happening now, as well as the comfort of memories and the scariness of the future. But these are not the only themes or conceits that drive this Mamet play, especially with the roles interpreted by this father-and-son team. This story is also about passing the baton from one generation to another, so it’s appropriate that these actors took on the challenge.
Though there are times when the audience may wince a bit at Mamet’s profanity (and in the tiniest of ways, the actors seem to, as well), or wonder about the not-quite-shown moments that define the actors’ humanity (“It was just a slip of the razor. “), the actors do Mamet proud. The playwright knows how to reveal the ways that we fail as human beings, as well as the ways that we continue to lift each other up, thus the actors have to be sensitive to the nuances as well.
The two characters in TIP’s rendition of A Life in the Theatre share a sense of comfort in the theater, often choosing to share conversation than to leave the building where they live out someone else’s life every night on a stage that never goes completely dark. They critique each other, support each other when something goes wrong, share their fears, and examine their own careers during their vignettes.
If we were to hold a closer magnifying glass to the play and its importance to these two actors in this particular theater, we could build a much longer analysis, but suffice it to say that David and Ira Wood provide a prolific, funny, poignant, and thoughtful play within a play within a play. The Wood tradition of offering the best of American theater to the Raleigh area continues, and the Triangle is all the richer because of this talented family.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 3rd Cary, NC RDU on Stage podcast interview with Ira David Wood III and Ira David Wood IV, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://rduonstage.com/podcast/podcast-ep-4-a-life-in-the-theater-with-theater-in-the-parks-ira-david-wood-iii-and-ira-david-wood-iv/.
Theatre in the Park presents A LIFE IN THE THEATRE, starring Ira David Wood III and Ira David Wood IV, at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9, 3 p.m. Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14-16, 3 p.m. Feb. 17, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 and 23, and 3 p.m. Feb. 24 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $27 ($22 students, seniors 60+, and active-duty military personnel), except $19 per ticket for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-831-6058 or https://theatreinthepark.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0S1K00000GVBUJUA5.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6058 or http://theatreinthepark.com/whatson/group-sales.
SHOW: https://www.theatreinthepark.com/whats-on/a-life-in-the-theatre.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/996864013840605/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.facebook.com/theatreintheparkraleigh/videos/605727143195690/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/, https://www.facebook.com/theatreintheparkraleigh, https://twitter.com/TheatreInPark, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_in_the_Park.
NOTE: All shows are wheelchair/walker accessible, and large-print playbills are usually available.
A Life in the Theatre (1977 Chicago and Off-Broadway, 2005 West End, 2008 Edinburgh Fringe and 2010 Broadway comedy): https://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2817/a-life-in-the-theatre/ (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/572 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/a-life-in-the-theatre-488278 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Life_in_the_Theatre (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: https://www.goodmantheatre.org/Documents/Study%20Guides/0506%20Season/A%20LIFE%20IN%20THE%20THEATRE%20Student%20Guide.pdf (Goodman Theatre in Chicago).
David Mamet (Chicago playwright and screenwriter): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/1855 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/david-mamet-5000 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000519/ (Internet Movie Database), https://twitter.com/davidmamet (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Mamet (Wikipedia).
Ira David Wood III (Raleigh, NC director/performer/playwright and TIP’s founder and artistic and executive director): http://theatreinthepark.com/about/whos-who; (TIP bio), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0202796/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/iradavidwood; (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/idwiii; (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_David_Wood_III (Wikipedia)
Ira David Wood IV (Raleigh, NC director/performer/playwright and TIP’s assistant artistic director): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0939505/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/ira.d.wood (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/iradavidwoodiv (Twitter page).
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.