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September 29, 2010


Stewart and Knight bring backstage life front and center

by Jesse North

In early September after a full day of rehearsal, Patrick Stewart, T.R. Knight, and director Neil Pepe met with journalists at a midtown pub to discuss their upcoming show, A Life in the Theatre. Written by David Mamet in 1977, the play is making its Broadway debut (it ran off Broadway the year it was published) and focuses on the backstage life of two actors in a repertory theater company—one whose career is nearing its end and the other’s whose is just beginning.

Pepe, who last directed Speed-the-Plow on Broadway, describes the play as a “love letter to the theater,” due to its focus on the behind-the-scenes lives of actors. Stewart says taking part in the production is an appropriate move, given his shared affection for theater that he and his character Robert have. After a long string of years working on the X-Men film franchise, Stewart noted that he has since worked almost exclusively in the theater, getting back to the medium he prefers. “My life has been spent in dressing rooms back stage, where every scene of our play takes place,” Stewart said. “All I ever wanted to be was a stage actor. Everything else that has happened to me was an accident. A happy accident; but an accident nonetheless.”

Video: Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight talk last-minute checks before going on stage and kooky mentors

This is Stewart’s second outing in A Life in the Theatre—he was in a short run in London’s West End with Fringe’s Joshua Jackson in 2005. “I didn’t want the production in London to end,” Stewart explained. “When it did end, I communicated with Mr. Mamet, whom I didn’t know, and said, ‘I’m not done with this. If there is any possibility of a future life, please remember me.’ Out of the blue, nine months go, I got a call saying David Mamet called and would like me to think about it. Good things for good folk, as I quote A Life In The Theatre.”

With a majority of his career in theater involving the works of William Shakespeare, Stewart acknowledges that acting in a Mamet play, and having the playwright participate in the show’s development, has been a refreshing treat. “As an actor who has spent a huge part of his life acting [in the works of] dead, white poets, how often have I wished I could say, ‘Bill, what exactly were you getting at here?’” Stewart said. Mamet worked with the Life in the Theatre team for the first week of rehearsals, which Stewart noted was beneficial to receive directions from “the horse’s mouth.”

The team received more than directions from the witty writer. Pepe pegs Mamet as a lover of gag gifts, and described his contribution to this production. “He had little t-shirts sent with a wonderful picture of Patrick playing Oberon [from A Midsummer Night’s Dream]. “He’s wearing a little loincloth,” Pepe said. “Patrick went out of the room one day, and we all put the t-shirts on. He came back in, we were talking and going over notes, and he froze and said, ‘What are you wearing?!’”

Laughs have helped bond Stewart and Knight, who did not know each other prior to the beginning of the production. Their rapport seemed evident, which is a necessity, according to Stewart, given the intensity of acting in a two-person play. “We cannot exist without the other one,” Stewart said. “There’s barely a moment in the play when we are not together. We are utterly dependent on each other, and that’s both the charm and excitement of the play, and the challenge of it too. A few weeks ago, we hadn’t met, and now we are locked into this dance of David Mamet’s.”

If it’s any indication of what the pair’s onstage dynamics will be like when the show opens on October 12, Stewart lost no opportunity to dryly capitalize on Knight’s every statement. “I find monologue plays frightening, because you’ve got no one else to depend on,” Knight said, upon turning to Stewart. “I have to make sure I don’t make you angry,” Knight boyishly said, to which Stewart replied, “Oh, you will.”

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sep 29 2010

    I adore Patrick Stewart. This looks like a fantastic production. I will have to check it out!

  2. Sep 29 2010

    Fantastic write-up of the evening!


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