A Life in the Theatre Review – Captivating, Poignant and Humorous

Unexpectedly, I had the opportunity to see A Life in the Theatre by Pulitzer Prize Winner, David Mamet.  In this production dedicated to the memory of Garret Boer, two actors, Joseph Salazar (John) and William J. Wolak (Robert) depict life itself through life on the stage. With humor that had many bent over with laughter and pathos that brought one nearly to tears, in just over an hour, many of life’s lessons were powerfully revealed.

Most of my time is spent in the Chicago area where I frequently review productions at the Steppenwolf and Goodman theatres for Chicago Splash Magazine.  I was interested to note a similarity to Steppenwolf in style and intensity and wonder if the years that director Eric Fraisher Hayes spent as an actor at Steppenwolf and Goodman may have had some influence in this regard. He is a Danville native who recently returned to the Bay Area after ten years in Chicago theater.  His direction assures that audience members have a true insider’s view of the glamour, artifice, and reality behind the footlights.

Costume problem, John (Joseph Salazar) and Robert (William J. Wolak)

Entering the modest building, I was impressed by the warm atmosphere where members of the community gather to enjoy the art of theater and one another. Producing artist director Lisa Tromovitch has worked to foster this environment since 2006, when she founded Shakespeare's Associates with the goal of creating professional theater that reflects and inspires the Tri-Valley community and greater region. Arts enthusiast Joan Boer joins Ms. Tromovitch in bringing top-notch professionals to Livermore: she sponsored the production in memory of her late husband, Garret Boer, a scientist and actor who directed shows for a fondly remembered theater group called Cask and Mask Players. The company continues to take inspiration from the works of William Shakespeare and scripts chosen for this series are ones noted for their literary merit, usually national and international award winners. The Bothwell Series is the Spring offering of contemporary plays.

Robert, A Life in the Theatre, scene 15 “Two actors, some lines…and an audience.  That’s what I say”.   And in this way, the audience sees a series of vignettes build around the theme of the two actors, one old and experienced and one young and at first hesitant and unsure and later, well, you really should find out for yourself. Written in 1977 at a time when local repertory theatres were more prevalent than now, this touches on many of the plays that were frequently performed at that time.

The 60-seat black-box West End Theater at the Bothwell Arts Center was the perfect venue, offering an unusual degree of intimacy; even in the back row, audience members are part of the action, close enough to see the nuances of expression that drive the actors.  Costuming, lighting and sets were consistent with the theme and while, modest, were convincing and supported the excellent performances.

Script problem, Robert (William J. Wolak) and John (Joseph Salazar)

The Bothwell West End Theater, located a few minutes from Livermore’s historic downtown, provides an opportunity for playgoers to enjoy boutiques and bistros before catching some of the best Bay Area professionals tell their own story through the witty repartee of a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. Do arrange to attend a performance before it closes on April 23rd.  You will be glad you did.

Experienced Robert (William J. Wolak) "lectures" young John (Joseph Salazar)

West End Theater of the Bothwell Arts Center at 8th and G Streets, just off S. Livermore.

Performances are Thursdays at 7 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets range from $25 to $35, day-dependent, with discounts for seniors, educators, and children. For more information, visit www.LivermoreShakes.org. Tickets are on sale through Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006 or via www.LivermoreShakes.org.

Photo Credit: Kenneth Alexander

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