Bain Boehlke playing an actor who passes the torch of theater on to youth. There's a stretch.

Boehlke, the Jungle Theater's artistic director, routinely dismisses suggestions he is easing away from the art he has practiced for nearly 50 years -- as director, designer and actor.

Yet, the membrane between performance and real life semed thin as Boehlke delivered the valedictory of an old actor in "A Life in the Theatre" on the Jungle stage Friday night. We were moved to reflect on the actor playing the actor in this speech filled with the melancholy of nostalgia and the fierce resistance of age. If only for a moment.

Boehlke has played "Robert" before in David Mamet's slim homage to actors and their craft. Robin Everson plays the young actor, "John" a fellow whose star is rising as Robert's wanes. Over the course of 85 minutes, these two share more than two dozen scenes -- some no more than a passing ribbon of small talk. John initially savors Robert's ruminations on theater, feeding the old man's natural ken for self importance. Slowly, an edge creeps into their relationship and John wearies of the pompous marginalia that Robert passes along with the occasional nugget of wisdom.

Most of this play is built for light entertainment -- words not normally associated with Mamet. Robert and John perform a number of scenes from plays and the fun is to watch actors in obvious states of makebelieve. Back stage, awaiting to go on in a "Civil War play," John forgets a line and as Robert clumsily tries to help, John misses his cue. It's fun to watch the actors first read through lines that are wooden and melodramatic and then later try to elevate that material when they play the scene. All this stuff lands with a deft and winking humor. Boehlke's Robert becomes increasingly dotty while Everson's John bears it all with good grace.

The mean undercurrent of age and youth emerges unmistakably as Robert's dissolution grows desperately maudlin and ultimately sad.

There is no director credited in the Jungle's program, part of a conscious artifice that this work is being presented by a "radical theater company" devoted to Mamet's belief in "actor-driven theater." Regardless, Boehlke choreographed the production, with smooth assists from Andrew Mayer's sound and Bill Healey's lights. Stagehands become part of the acting company and this conceit helps the piece move swiftly and cinematically.

Boehlke can no more walk away from the theater than a leopard can shed its spots, yet this piece is a nice chance to appreciate the sum of his career -- up to now.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299