Stewart and Knight bring backstage life front and center
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
Stage Rush TV: Episode 20
- Celebrating 20 episodes of SRTV!
- Being a way overdue audience member of Rock of Ages and Race
- The Fela!/39 Steps giveaway has ended. More giveaways to come!
- Broadway grosses
What shows have you been super late to seeing, Rushers? Did you find yourself immersed in Rock of Ages? Did you feel convinced with Race? Leave all your questions and thoughts in the comments! And once again, thank you so much for watcher. Rushers rock!
Stage Rush TV: Episode 19
- Jonathan Groff at Joe’s Pub
- Talking with Afton C. Williamson, former understudy, current star of Race
- Stage Rush’s free ticket giveaway: Fela! and The 39 Steps
- Broadway grosses
Did you catch Jonathan Groff at Joe’s Pub, Rushers? What did you think of his set list? Have you seen Afton Williamson in Race yet? What do you think of her story? Have you entered the Fela!/39 Steps ticket giveaway yet? What are you waiting for, Rushers? Leave it in the comments!
Understudy Hall: ‘Race”s Afton C. Williamson is no longer a clenched fist
Every day, understudies hope to go on in the role they cover. Yet as much as that is the desire they obsess over, the even greater dream is to take over the part permanently. Understudy veteran Afton C. Williamson’s dream came to fruition on June 15 when she stepped into the role of Susan in David Mamet’s legal drama Race for the remainder of its run. Understudying Kerry Washington since Race began previews in November, Williamson will stay with the production through its August 21 closing date. Already an experienced understudy from last year’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Williamson sat down with Stage Rush to discuss achieving the ultimate understudy dream.
How does it feel to go from understudying a role to taking it on as your own?
Surreal. As an understudy, you usually only get a performance or two, if that. When I did Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, I didn’t get any performances. I was understudying three women, and it was a wonderful experience. All of them became some of my best friends in the world. To come through all this and to still keep building people in New York, it’s always good to have people around you who get it.
This is a situation that not many understudies find themselves in.
Being with Race for seven months and listening to it every night and seeing over 200 shows, all of that has really just prepared for this moment. But I didn’t know it when it was in existence. There were days where I was like, “Man, I really wanted to go on stage tonight, but OK.” You just do it. It’s the craziest job in the world. You just got to be ready at any moment, but as actors, all the gratification is when we’re on stage. But as an understudy, you don’t get to act. You work up all this stuff every day and then you don’t get a release. The actors on stage get the release. I kind of go home like this—(m,akes a clenched fist). You’re like, “Maybe once! Maybe once!” When we have understudy rehearsals, that’s when all the understudies get the opportunity to let it all out. I think it’s going to be exciting to have that experience every night. Read more
David Mamet makes Funny Or Die debut
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet (whose latest play, Race, is currently on Broadway) has made his foray into the world of viral online videos. Mamet made his debut Thursday on the comedy video website Funny Or Die, writing and directing “Lost Masterpieces of Pornography.” The video stars Kristen Bell and Ed O’Neill as, what else, a slinky office assistant to a Supreme Court judge (respectively, of course).
What do you think, Rushers? Does this move help make Mamet more relevant to a new generation? What was your favorite line? Mine was, “It is the Dred Scott Decision!” Did you chuckle or did the video fall flat?
Trust no one! That is the message of Oleanna. Well, there are actually quite a lot of messages packed into David Mamet’s two-character drama, but that’s certainly the theme that I left the theater with.
Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles
box star in this revival of Mamet’s 80-minute drama about a college professor and student embroiled in a high-stakes battle of words. But trust me; it’s uglier than it sounds. Is the college professor (Pullman) sexist? Is the student (Stiles) over sensitive? Has he made an attempt to diminish her? Or is she just out for blood? None of these questions can be answered definitively, which is frustrating. But half the fun is considering all arguments in your head when the play is over.
What’s frightening about Oleanna is that it’s setting is based on an occurrence we can all relate to: seeking extra help from a teacher. It’s innocent enough—a student is trying to learn and the teacher is willing to aid the process; no one expects, well… the furniture to be turned upside down. Oleanna presents this common scenario in nightmare form: the student feeling harassed and the teacher having his career and personal life about to be shattered.
Oleanna starts off at a slow, ‘Where-is-this-going?’ pace. But have patience. What you’re watching is an invisible puzzle being put together, and at any moment, the image will pop more vividly that you could have imagined. And that’s one aspect that makes this play fascinating (and probably worth a second viewing). Every statement and gesture is placed in the scene for a reason. Mamet’s clues and nuances each come into play later in the story, and mock your expectations that they were mere excess.
Stiles is wonderful as Carol, the student. Every emotion that brushes past Carol’s face appears genuine, until Stiles purposely makes you question it. Her performance kept me guessing the entire time, and it made me delightfully awestruck. Her stubbornness and matter-of-fact diction is so on key, it could make anyone’s blood boil. Pullman gives college professor John a painful weariness—I felt stressed just watching him. He brilliantly illustrates strained phone conversations and allows characters that aren’t even on stage to get the best of his. Pullman makes John’s eagerness to reach out to Carol earnest and heartbreaking, particularly in the light of the damning accusations she’s brought against him.
The stages of Oleanna are built in a marvelous crescendo. My interest grew appropriately as the stakes rose in each scene, so that by the conclusion, I was wide-eyed and waiting for an answer. And what a finale! At the risk of revealing any surprises, I’ll spare details. But the closing of Oleanna is one of the most shocking and nail-biting pieces of theater I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so uncomfortable in a theater before. I was amazed at Pullman and Stiles’ ability to do the scene so well and couldn’t help but wonder how awkward it must be for them to execute.
While these characters spend the entire play explaining themselves and attempting to justify, they still feel like a mystery at the play’s end. I don’t know their motives or how they came to be the way they are. Perhaps Mamet wants these characters to almost be phantoms, but I felt like I needed to know them better in order to truly understand them.
Regardless of your beliefs or whose side you end up taking, what’s tragic about Oleanna is that two people had an opportunity to reach out to each other and help, but decided to sucker punch the other instead. And because of that, I say, trust no one!
Editor’s note: I was invited to see Oleanna and did not rush it. There is a student rush policy in place for this show. Tickets go on sale one hour prior to curtain for $20 each, up to two tickets per ID.
And in case you can’t rush the show, but still want to get a discount, Stage Rush is offering its first discount offer! To save over 40 percent on tickets, visit BroadwayOffers.com and enter code OLMKT93. Tickets are only $59 Tuesday-Friday or $65 Saturday and Sunday. Valid through November 15.
Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times