In the Trenches – a review of “A Life in the Theatre”

A friendship between two actors is tested as they work together over a prolonged period of time in David Mamet’s “A Life in the Theatre.”

Robert (Sam Tsoutsouvas), an older actor, befriends John (Joseph McGranaghan) after a performance. The friendship waxes, and wanes over a series of sketches immersed in theatrical tropes. It’s not deep but it’s delightful.

They play soldiers, sailors, tinkers, and spies. There’s a Chekhovian moment when the actors stare out the window and contemplate the coming season. There’s a silly moment when both actors stare at the phone waiting for the sound cue (a scene written decades before “The Play That Goes Wrong”). At one point, they are literally ‘in the trenches’ together in a World War I drama.

Mamet known for his ribald language is restrained here. It’s not “Glengarry Glen Ross,” but it never tries to be.  It is a romp with subtle explorations of character.

Spoilers beyond this point.

There is a subtext to the friendship. Robert seems too curious about John’s  romantic phone call. John, in turn, masks the call by only revealing that he was talking to ‘a friend.’ If there is more between the two, it’s hinted, but never fully explored.

Robert (Sam Tsoutsouvas), and John (Joseph McGranaghan) stare off into the distance in “A Life in the Theatre.” Photo Credit: Rocky Raco

Both men are exceedingly talented.

Tsoutsouvas is wonderful as the crotchety older actor.  Robert struts across the stage seemingly full of self-confidence, but, in reality, the character is vulnerable, frightened and insecure.

In this sly two-hander, the men battle wits in ways both furious and mild. McGranaghan matches his scene partner’s energy.

The assistant stage manager, Cameron Nickel, is almost a third character in the play, popping up frequently, dressing, undressing the set and the actors.

“A Life in the Theatre” is a showcase for the two actors, and Director Andrew Paul gives them a wide berth.

Johnmichael Bohach’s set is simple, but elegant and utilitarian.

“A Life in the Theatre” is a fun, little diversion for a summer evening.


“A Life in the Theatre” runs until June 30 at the Richard E. Rauh Theatre, Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh campus, 4200 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. For more information, click here.

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