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Theater : O.C. STAGE REVIEW

In Difference

David Mamet's 'Life' is a study in contrasts. Golden West can't compare.

May 15, 1997|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HUNTINGTON BEACH — David Mamet's "A Life in the Theatre" is not a typical Mamet play. Its many moments of gentle irony combine to make a statement about the generation gap between a savvy but aging theater veteran and a brash, ambitious newcomer. It's a comparison and clash of styles and professional intent.

At Golden West College's Stage West, director Charles Mitchell seems to have missed the point. The production generally is well done; the timing is realistically exact, both in the dressing room the actors share and in the brief theater scenes the characters perform together. The mood is right, and so is the laid-back tone.

Mitchell's slip was in casting Russell Terry as the younger actor, John: He is too mature for the role of the self-involved neophyte. Terry's sensibilities are too settled in experience, too much on a level with those of the older actor, Robert. The generation gap here is negligible. These are two actors from almost the same world, without envy and jealousy and niggling attention to each other's flaws. The conflict, and Mamet's point, are diminished.

Still, Stewart Rogers is perfect for Robert. We see and hear the slight evidence of the cracks beginning to appear in the older actor's work, his slowly growing fear of failure. "I was young," Robert says, remembering. "I made a fetish of my faults." They are fetishes he holds onto like a lifesaver, much to John's annoyance.

The production is a benefit for the GWC theater department, and a note in the program asks the audience to forgive "the flapdoodle staging." It's harder to forgive the wide detour around Mamet's intent.

BE THERE

* "A Life in the Theatre," Stage West, Orange Coast College, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach. Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Ends Sunday. $7. (714) 895-8378. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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