Though his recent political writings may have caused him to lose favor in some circles, David Mamet is still considered one of the major playwrights of his generation.  The dire scenarios and tough talk of such plays as “American Buffalo” and “Glengarry Glen Ross” still resonate.

Hearing that a Mamet play will be staged locally is genuine cause for excitement, even if the play selected may be one of his lesser known and lighter pieces.

“A Life in the Theatre,” which just opened at Freeport Factory Stage under the direction of the tireless Sally Wood, is essentially a sentimental backstage comedy of the sort that appeals most to those closely attuned to the theatrical world.  Some may see loose affinities to such plays as “The Dresser,” produced by Mad Horse Theater a couple of seasons back.

The play concerns two repertory actors, one older and given to offering grand pronouncements and admonitions about the art and business of acting.  The other is a younger man who may be on his way to a career that will eclipse anything his veteran partner has achieved.  

A passing-of-the-baton theme gives the play its heart while a series of wild send-ups of theatrical clichés, forgotten lines, onstage mishaps and turgid writing provides the laughs.

With two actors hustling though multiple short scenes, it’s a busy play.  But, in the hands of director Wood and actors Will Rhys and Dustin Tucker, it’s a play which has been adapted to fit well within the confines of the small theater space at Freeport Factory. 

The audience sits backstage with the actors who are seen applying makeup, changing costumes, practicing scenes and gingerly critiquing each other.  They occasionally pull a curtain at the back, beyond which is the imaginary audiences for their various, often humorously overblown, dramatic performances. 

As the stodgy, sometimes overbearing senior actor, Rhys was right on the mark at Friday’s performance. His Robert was pompous but also touching as an artist struggling to maintain dignity in a theater world that doesn’t always conform to the principles in which he strongly believes.

Tucker’s was equally engaging as his John tried to learn from the veteran while still keeping him at arm’s length, particularly as his career begins to take off and leave the older fellow behind.

Some of the play-within-a-play scenes, while funny, may distract from the core “message” of the play.  That’s the author’s issue and not the fault of this fine production which benefits from having involved some of the best theater talent around in what comes across, not surprisingly, as a labor of love.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.