I was excited to see this play. I have been longing to see F. Murray Abraham on stage for some years and what better opportunity than an intellectual play about the nature of art, writing and working in the Arts?
Well, a lot of things, really. The main problem is that while The Mentor boasts an excellent cast, it’s an insipid piece of work that doesn’t provide them with the kind of matter they can get their teeth into. Whether this is a fault of the writer (Daniel Kehlmann) or the translator (Christopher Hampton), or the famous fatal misalliance between British and German humour, the result is a polite B+ essay of a play which doesn’t give the cast room to shine.
Kehlmann draws some rather commonplace not-quite-conclusions about what it means to be a writer, to review art, to support art, and so forth. There are some neat little jokes about working in the Arts sector – all worth a polite titter. But the play trickles along like one of the less good chapters in an Alain de Botton book: mildly amusing, faintly familiar, but ultimately no that interesting.
The performances range from decent to very good. FMA doesn’t disappoint, but his role is basically a watered down – and slightly more charming – version of some of the terrifying roles he’s played on screen. It’s a role he could do in his sleep, and he stays on the professional side of phoning it in. Naturally, this is a disappointment, knowing that given better material, he could have done so much more. Jonathan Cullen brings some delightfully fussy details to Erwin, the arts administrator. None of this, however, is enough to really lift the play, and when Martin flings his Macbook (and play) into the lake, one can’t help wondering what trick of fate prevented Kehlmann from doing the same. The play ends, the cast smile, the audience applauds politely, and marvels at the tastelessness of the lone voice that bothers to shout “Bravo!”